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Head to head, new T. rex beats Sue...

Head to head, new T. rex beats Sue 

April 12, 2006

Chicago Sun-Times Staff Reporter 

When it comes to T. rex skulls, is there a new head of
the class?

A museum in Montana is claiming the crown for the
world's largest Tyrannosaurus rex skull, knocking off
the previous king -- or perhaps queen: the Field
Museum's famous Sue.

At the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, the Montana
skull, called MOR 008, measures 59 inches long from
its snout to the back of its skull. By the same
standard, the Field's Sue is a close runner-up at 55.4
inches long.

Last week, MOR 008 went on display in Montana, with
the museum touting it as the "world's largest" and
crowing in a press release that it is "bigger than the
previous record-holder -- the T. rex named Sue at
Chicago's Field Museum."

Field officials noted that Sue is still the most
complete T. rex, pointing out that MOR 008 is, while
impressive, just a skull.

MOR 008 skull is 80% authentic

Field curator of dinosaurs Peter J. Makovicky insisted
that serious paleontologists don't get swelled heads
over big noggins.

"There's a certain PR value, of course, in saying we
have the biggest thing, but that's in relation to the
media and the public," Makovicky said. "In scientific
terms with these two skulls, you'd consider these
animals to be roughly equivalent."

The Montana T. rex skull was discovered in the
mid-1960s in an area called Hell Creek Formation near
Billings, Mont. Broken into 1,000 pieces, the skull
wasn't fully assembled until recently. It is about 80
percent authentic; Sue's skull is nearly completely
real, said Makovicky.

Jack Horner, the Museum of the Rockies' curator of
paleontology, allowed that the fill-in parts, made of
an epoxy, might artificially lengthen MOR 008's skull
-- but not by more than an inch or so.

Horner said length is significant because it is
believed that this type of dinosaur continued to grow
through its entire life, meaning that MOR 008 may have
been slightly older than Sue, who died around the age
of 25.

While MOR 008's standing may delight folks in the
museum marketing department in Montana (and fail to
impress their counterparts in Chicago), scientists are
thrilled to have another example to contrast and
compare for research.

"Biologically, having two of these animals is more
important than having one," said Makovicky.

The Field Museum bills Sue as the largest and best
preserved T. rex yet discovered. Found in 1990 in
South Dakota by fossil hunter Sue Hendrickson, the
67-million-year-old dino was purchased by the Field
for $8.4 million in 1997.

"Sue rules!" exclaims the Field's Web site.

No argument there from Horner. "I would encourage
people to see Sue. It's more complete," said Horner
before quickly adding that the Museum of the Rockies,
on the campus of Montana State University, has three
--count 'em, three -- T. rex skulls.

aherrmann@ suntimes.com