by Greg Mayer
Sue, the remarkably complete Tyrannosaurus rex discovered by (and named for) Sue Hendrickson, and excavated by Pete Larson and the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, has long graced Stanley Field Hall at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. Last year, the Museum announced that Sue would be moved upstairs, into the “regular” dinosaur hall, and that her place would be taken by a model of Patagotitan, a very large sauropod dinosaur. We’ve been following Sue’s progress here at WEIT, and earlier this month the new arrangements were completed and opened to the public.
Let’s start with what’s taken Sue’s place in Stanley Field Hall.
Standing more or less where Sue once stood is Patagotitan. Unlike Sue, who is 90% actual fossil by volume, Patagotitan is a cast. (Note the elephants and people for scale.) Swooping over the elephants is a life reconstruction of Quetzalcoatlus, the largest known pterosaur, who shares etymological roots with Jerry’s favorite beuatiful bird. Several smaller, long-tailed pterosaurs– Rhamphorhynchus, I think– can be seen over the Patagotitan. Hanging from the ceiling are several large planters, which resemble the “floating islands” from Avatar.
There were many small lights attached to each planter. I could not discern how the plants were watered.
From the second floor we could look down upon Patagotitan,
and look Quetzalcoatlus in the eye.
Sue is now housed in a special section of the longstanding exhibit, Evolving Planet, which is organized as a walk through time, from the pre-Cambrian to the Cenozoic. Another life reconstruction of Quetzalcoatlus, this one in standing posture, has been placed at the entrance. They were big!
The new Sue hall is located in Evolving Planet in the appropriate spatial and chronological location– the end of the Cretaceous.
Note that the signage is bilingual, in English and, in a smaller font, Spanish. The Field has adopted this convention for all it’s new exhibits.
So here’s the old girl herself!
(Sue’s sex is actually unknown, so, properly, it’s “itself”.) Here’s a video overview of all of her.
In the video, you may have noticed that, compared to her previous mounting, Sue now has a second set of “ribs”, the gastralia, or “abdominal ribs”. These were part of the original excavation, but not included before. The true ribs have also had their distal ends extended a bit laterally, giving Sue a more barrel-chested appearance.
The revisions in the mounting are explained in this ‘science makeover‘ explainer on the Field’s website. Sue’s skull is still housed in a case separate from the mount, and the other Sue materials (most notably bronze models of various bones) from the old second floor overlook have been moved in to the new exhibit.
An engineer friend who I showed some of these pictures to thought that Sue was depicted as too front-end heavy, and that she would topple over forward. The current view is that the tail was massive and muscular, and provided a counterweight, but I, too, thought that, especially with the new barrel chest, she did look a bit over-extended, the heavy front end held too horizontal to readily balance over the hind legs.
A number of associated fossils from the late Cretaceous are also in Sue’s part of the hall, most notably this Triceratops skull.
As some readers may know, Sue came to the Field Museum by a roundabout and unsavory process, involving civil and criminal legal battles, and major financial intervention by McDonald’s (the burger chain) and Disney. The Field Museum’s part in this was largely, if not wholly, salutary, but nonetheless, as in the last exhibit, there is little or no mention of these circumstances in the new exhibit, other than a prominent nod to Sue Hendrickson. Some of the Black Hills Institute’s photos and field notes figure in the exhibit, and are subtly, but properly, acknowledged.