For more photos of Sue's skeleton, click here.
There's a new Sue in town. And this Sue makes Ndamukong Suh look tiny. Sue is a Tyrannosaurus rex — at least the life-size replica of its skeleton. She will be at the Durham Museum through Sept. 8 in the visiting exhibit “A T. Rex Named Sue” from the Field Museum in Chicago. Be prepared to be amazed.
Sue is huge: 42 feet long, at least 12 feet tall at the hips. It sounds big and it looks big in pictures, but words and photos don't prepare you for the real thing.
Sue arrived in Omaha in three trucks earlier this week along with Michael Paha, the on-site production manager from the Field Museum. He has gotten to see a lot of the world traveling with Sue.
Paha and workers from the Durham's exhibits department painstakingly put the skeleton together after arrival. On Tuesday, they even had to readjust her because her heavy head caused her tail to go up into the rafters.
She comes with all kinds of interactive displays that will allow museumgoers to feel her bones or touch a tooth, to see what a T. rex would see, to smell what it would smell. Kids can strap their arms into an apparatus that allows them to see how scientists think the dinosaur would use its arms. They can try out a model of Sue's jaws, to see how prey was chomped and a model of the tail to see how Sue would use it for balance.
There also are two videos. One explains how dinosaurs have been portrayed in books and movies — no, the T. rex never walked upright and it couldn't keep up with a speeding car since its top speed was only about 18 miles per hour. The other video shows what scientists have been able to learn from the skeleton.
Nothing about Sue has been easy.
Fossil hunter Sue Hendrickson discovered her fossilized remains in an eroded bluff near Faith, S.D., in 1990. It took six people more than two weeks to remove her from the rock in which she had rested for about 67 million years.
It was an amazing find — the most complete and biggest Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered. A staggering 90 percent of her bones were found. The missing bones were present on the opposite side of the body, so the Field Museum could replace them by mirroring what it could see.
Only about 30 partial T. rex skeletons have been found, and none come close to what Sue (named after Hendrickson) can tell the world.
All parts of Sue's skeleton were well-preserved. Scientists could see details such as where muscles and tendons were attached and where broken ribs apparently had healed. Even some of the cellular structure inside the bones remained.
The way her eye sockets faced forward, the inner ear structure, the size of the snout and her teeth told scientists a lot about the way a Tyrannosaurus rex functioned — that she had great depth perception, hearing and balance; that she probably had a keen sense of smell; that her teeth were perfect for biting through hide and bone. Those teeth were continually shed and regrown during Sue's lifetime.
And counting the rings in Sue's bones told scientists she was about 28 years old when she died.
Scientists haven't been able to figure out why she died, however. They also can't figure out the dinosaur's sex from what is left. Sue's called a she, but no one knows for sure.
Owning Sue also got complicated. Hendrickson and the other fossil hunters worked for the Black Hills Institute, which thought it should own Sue. But since the T. rex was found on a rancher's land on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, both the rancher and the tribe claimed ownership.
The U.S. government stepped in, decided Sue had been found on federal land and put her up for auction. The Field Museum paid $8.36 million for her after an auction that lasted just eight minutes in 1997.
The Field Museum then faced the hurdle of putting her back together and creating replicas cast from the original bones — more than 30,000 hours of work all together.
Once those replicas are created, they must be reassembled every time they travel. Sue comes partially assembled in eight parts so the individual bones don't need to be identified, though crates are clearly marked when the arrive in a new place.
“The biggest difficulty is managing the weight of the pieces as they come together,” said museum spokeswoman Patty O'Bryan. The floor has to be able to support the 3,922-pound skeleton.
When the T. rex roamed North America: 67 million years ago (late Cretaceous)
Sue discovered: Aug. 12, 1990, near Faith, S.D.
Digging her out: Six fossil hunters took 17 days to get her out of the rock bluff.
Purchase price: $8.36 million in a 1997 Sotheby's auction that took just 8 minutes
Put back together: 30,000 hours to reconstruct Sue and make two exact replicas with bones cast from the originals
Sue's size: 42 feet long, 12 feet tall at the hips
She's heavy: Total skeletal weight 3,922 pounds; skull alone is 573 pounds
Estimated weight alive: 7 tons
Skull size: 5.2 feet long
Size of brain cavity: Just big enough to hold a quart of milk
Number of teeth: Sue has 55 of 58 total
Length of teeth: 7.5 to 12 inches
Number of bones: Sue has 224, not counting ribs. Scientists estimate a complete skeleton would include 321 bones.
Top speed running: 18 mph
Age Sue died: 28
Number of trucks to transport Sue to Omaha: 3
Days to put skeleton together: 2
Days to put entire exhibit together: 7
Paha should be getting used to putting this particular jigsaw puzzle together. Omaha was the 43rd time he had done it, he said.
He explained that Omaha has the national touring Sue; the other replica could be called the international Sue, which has visited South and Central America, the Pacific Rim countries and the Middle East. At the moment, that Sue is being refurbished, Paha said.
The most difficult aspect of his job is logistics, he said: “Every venue is different.”
Tim Hantula, director of exhibit design at the Durham, said the museum began working to bring Sue here four years ago.
“Things finally worked out,” he said.
Hantula is hoping Sue will give museum attendance a boost.
“We're counting on the fact that kids love dinosaurs,” he said.
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