The “king of tyrant lizards” is possibly the most famous dinosaur in the world. Considered for many years as the largest carnivore in history, its appearances in novels and films such as “Jurassic Park” have made this species an icon of popular culture. Their imposing fossilized skeletons are the closest we can get to a fantastical monster. This fascination brings millions of people to the doors of the museums that exhibit some specimen. According to a recent study, about 2.5 billion Tyrannosaurus rex inhabited the planet. Of this enormous quantity we have managed to discover a few remains, but how many T. rex fossils have been found and where can they be seen?
an american dinosaur
We have about twenty specimens whose fossilized remains have been preserved to a lesser or greater extent. From just a few vertebrae to almost complete skeletons of this Cretaceous giant that lived between 68 and 66 million years ago in present-day North America.
These finds make up the very story of the discovery and study of Tyrannosaurus rex . Considering the surface that it inhabited, almost all the fossils of this species have been found in the same site: Hell Creek . It is a geological formation that extends through areas of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
The first meeting
The first Tyrannosaurus rex fossil appeared there in 1892 . Although the discoverer, Edward Drinker Cope, named the species Manospondylus gigas , that is, “giant porous vertebrae”, since all he found were parts of two vertebrae . This first encounter with T. rex , although its discoverer did not know it, has its remains deposited in the American Museum of Natural History, in New York.
In 1900, American paleontologist Barnum Brown found fossil remains in Wyoming that were described as Dynamosaurus imperiosus . Two years later, he himself found new remains that ended up being the holotype to describe Tyrannosaurus rex . It was Henry Fairfield Osborn in 1905 who discovered that both fossils belonged to the same species. It is from then on that the species to which these fossilized bones belonged was officially known as Tyrannosaurus rex . During World War II, the holotype was sold to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where it remains on display. But Brown still had one more contribution to leave for the history of paleontology. In 1908, the first complete skull of Tyrannosaurus rex was discovered in Montana . Along with a series of neck vertebrae, this finding was key to reconstructing the appearance of T. rex . This fossil also went to the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
The most famous and best preserved fossils
The last years of the 20th century were especially fruitful in terms of the quantity and quality of T. rex remains found. Some of the most complete fossils of the species appeared in Hell Creek during this period. This is the case of the specimen known as Sue , whose discoverer, Susan Hendrickson, was able to rescue almost 90% of the skeleton in 1990. It is the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossil to date and is the flagship of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.
If Sue can be considered the world’s most famous Tyrannosaurus fossil, the world ‘s most expensive fossil had previously been discovered . In 1987, Stan Sacrison found the remains of what appeared to be a Triceratops in South Dakota. However, it was not until 1992 that they decided to extract the fossil and, after a year of work, they discovered that it was a rex skeleton in an excellent state of preservation. Since 1996 it has remained at the Black Hills Institute, but in 2020 it was auctioned off and a buyer paid more than $30 million for Stan, the name by which the most expensive fossil is known. The buyer was anonymous, but we have learned that it will be part of the collection of the Abu Dhabi Natural History Museum, which plans to open its doors in 2025.
Kathy Wankel found a specimen in 1988 that is on display at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman. In 1991 a fossil appeared in Canada that has required a decade of work to extract the bones without damaging them. A difficult operation since the fossil was embedded in sandstone, a very hard stone. Once all the material has been reconstructed, the fossil forms a specimen 12 meters long and weighing more than 8 tons, which is why it is considered the largest T. rex known to date. To end the 20th century, Bucky Derflinger found another specimen in 1998 on display at the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis.
The golden age of paleontology
Already in the 21st century we have seen up to six fossils appear that have ended up exposed to the public. All of them have been located in the part of the Hell Creek Formation that extends through the state of Montana. As usual, all these fossils have a nickname by which they are recognized and only two of the six specimens are exhibited outside the United States.
The Jane fossil, found in 2001, is at the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, Illinois. Thomas , found by the Argentine paleontologist Luis M. Chiappe in 2003, is exhibited at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, where his skeleton can be seen, 70% preserved. Tristan is one of the fossils that traveled abroad, as was Trix . They are, respectively, in the Natural History Museum of Denmark and in the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, in the Netherlands. Baby Bob is the name of the fossil of a T. rex that died when it was about four years old and whose remains were sold on eBay, sparking controversy and suspicion among many scientists. For now it remains in private hands. Finally, the fossil known as Tufts-Love , discovered in 2016, can be found at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle, in the state of Washington.
We have mentioned 15 Tyrannosaurus rex fossils that can be seen, mostly, in public exhibitions. We trust that those remains that are still in search of a prominent place in a museum will soon be in the same conditions. However, it is necessary to take into account other remains that may remain in warehouses awaiting scientific descriptions, as well as replicas distributed by numerous museums. Without forgetting the most recent and future discoveries made on new fossil material from the most famous dinosaur in the world. Paleontology is currently enjoying a golden age, so we will have to be vigilant to update this list regularly.