The scientific tourist #297 — a date with Sue at the Field Museum

Should you ever find yourself in Chicago, you definitely owe it to yourself to carve out a few hours for a visit to the Field Museum.  It’s got a wealth of exhibits, hands-on experiments for the kiddos, and front and center as soon as you gain admission, it’s got Sue the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Sue the T-Rex

As you may recall, Sue’s a skeleton with a bit of history behind her.

She was discovered in South Dakota in 1990, but spent much of that decade iin legal limbo as attorneys fought over ownership of the fossil (thanks to rather convoluted title of the land she was found on).  In 1997 Sue was purchased by and for the Field Museum (i.e., with financial assistance from a number of outside parties) at auction for $8,362,500 ($7.6 million before Sotheby’s commission).  It took three more years before she was fully prepared and on display at the Field.

Sue, from above

No matter how you look at things, Sue is one of the largest and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex fossils ever found (estimates for the completeness of her skeleton range from 80 to 90%, vs. the previous record of 60% complete).  She was 28 years old when she died, making her also the oldest T. rex found to date (and her bones still show evidence of a long life of injuries).  She was 12.3 meters (40 ft) long, 4.3 meters (14 ft) tall at the sholders, and weighed more than 8.2 metric tons when she was alive.  As you can see above, she is quite an imposing girl even in her current skeletal form.

In the lobby, though, she’s not wearing her real head — it’s upstairs in a special case.

Sue's head

Sue’s original skull weighs some 272 kg (600 lbs), too heavy to display with the rest of her skeleton (without putting a heavy and obtrusive support directly under her head, anyway).  Sue’s real skull also got distorted during the process of fossilization, so while making the display copy for the floor display, curators took the time to straighten things out they way they’d have likely appeared during Sue’s lifetime.

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