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"Curse of T. rex" (was Nova) - More Info.
In a bonanza of information following receipt of the press release, I just
received the program release on the "Curse of T. rex," as follows:
_Curse of T. rex_
_T. rex_, the indisputable ruler of the dinosaurs, is still creating an
uproar 65 million years after drawing its last living breath.
This time around, the giant reptile is making mayhem in the courtroom, where
public and private interests are battling for the rich fossil legacy of the
past, symbolized by a nearly perfect _T. rex_ specimen nicknamed "Sue,"
discovered in the South Dakota Badlands in 1991.
NOVA investigates the dark side of the public's obsession with dinosaurs in
"Curse of T. rex," airing Tuesday, February 25, 1997, at 8pm ET on PBS (check
The program covers the imposing FBI raid that confiscated Sue and gathered
tons of evidence, allegedly implicating Sue's discoverers in widespread
fossil theft from federal lands. The raid sparked a vocal backlash against
the government with protesters rallying around the cry: "Free Sue!"
Charged were Peter Larson and his partners at the Black Hills Institute of
Geological Research in South Dakota, the largest commercial fossil dealer in
Though ownership of Sue signaled the immediate dispute, the deeper issue is
the epidemic of fossil poaching from federal lands in the West, where some of
the finest fossils in the world, including dinosaur skeletons, have been
found. Until recently, fossil collecting was pursued mainly by hobbyists and
a handful of academic paleontologists, but now it is a lucrative business
with international collectors and museums bidding up the price for the best
Sue, the most complete _T. rex_ ever found and estimated to be worth up to $5
million, was unearthed at a ranch on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation,
where Larson was given permission to dig. He maintained that a check for
$5,000 made out to the ranch owner covered rights to the skeleton, which his
team removed. On complaints from the rancher and the Sioux tribe, the local
US Attorney ordered the dinosaur seized.
The case against the Black Hills Institute snowballed from there, with
everyone "from the Pentagon to Smoky the Bear" getting involved, according to
Larson's attorney, Patrick Duffy, who claimed that federal agents were
pursuing a vendetta against his client.
The case spotlights the plight of researchers who study dinosaurs and who are
finding that science can't compete with the profit motive. On federal lands,
the difficulty of enforcing laws against unauthorized fossil hunting has made
it virtually open season for fossil rustlers, who rarely document the true
sources and circumstances of their finds, rendering them practically useless
to science. Even on privately owned land where commercial fossil hunting is
legal, sites that researchers have worked for years are being sold out from
under them to the highest bidders.
But commercial collectors argue that they are serving science by discovering
fossils that would otherwise disappear to erosion.
NOVA documents both sides of the fossil feud--while covering Sue's
misadventures in the criminal justice system. Facing more than 100 years in
prison if convicted on all counts, Peter Larson understandably has regrets
about his momentous discovery, which he compares to "The Mummy's Curse."
"It's the Curse of Sue," he laments. "Everybody who is touched by this thing
is in some way harmed."
"Curse of T. rex" was produced for NOVA by Mark Davis of MDTV Productions.
Now in its 23rd season, NOVA is produced for PBS by the WGBH Science Unit.
The director of the WGBH Science Unit and executive producer of NOVA is
Paula S. Apsell.