Two volunteer paleontologists have discovered one of the largest, best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons while working at a site in northern Montana. One of only 15 complete T. Rex skulls to be found, it arrived at Seattle’s Burke Museum earlier this week.
The skeleton was discovered at Montana’s Hell Creek Formation, a site that has produced a number of significant fossil finds in the past, including those of mammals, fish, reptiles and nearly a dozen additional dinosaur specimens. Luke Tufts and Jason Love, two volunteers from Seattle’s Burke Museum of National History and Culture, made the latest find on the final day of a dig in 2015, when they spotted the remains sticking out from a hillside. Scientists estimate they’ve recovered at least 20 percent of the T. rex’s skeleton, including portions of its pelvis, lower jaw and vertebrae, and believe future excavations at the site, planned for next summer, will yield additional finds.
But, it’s the skull that has scientists and dinosaur enthusiasts most excited. Nicknamed “Tufts-Love” after the paleontologist pair, the 4-foot long, 2,500-pound skull is one of the largest and best-preserved specimens ever found. It took more than four dozen people several weeks to extract it from the 20 tons of rock in which it was buried. Based on initial research on the skull, paleontologists estimate that Tufts-Love was 15 when it died, middle-aged for a Tyrannosaurus rex, which had a 25-30 year life span. It was 15 to 20 feet tall and 40 feet long—roughly the size of a city bus—making it 85 percent the size of the biggest T. rex ever found. Tufts-Love likely died 66.3 million years ago, right at the end of the Cretaceous period, approximately 300,000 years before the mass extinction of dinosaurs.
The skull, in a protective plaster cast similar to those used for broken bones, arrived at the Burke Museum on Tuesday and will be on display through October 2, 2016, where it’s expected to be a big draw. “We think the Tufts-Love Rex is going to be an iconic specimen for the Burke Museum and the state of Washington and will be a must-see for dinosaur researchers as well,” said Greg Wilson, a University of Washington professor and the head of the team that located the remains. The next step for scientists will be a painstaking cleaning effort to remove the residual plaster and soft sandstone encasing it, an effort that could take more than a year. Researchers hope this remarkable find will provide insight into the T. rex’s diet. As paleontologist (and co-founder of the UW project) Jack Horner noted in a press release that Tufts-Love is “sure to yield important information about the growth and possible eating habits of these magnificent animals.”