Head first: nearly complete T.rex skull found

Paleontologists find major Tyrannosaurus fossil in northern Montana's Hell Creek Formation
T.rex skull ready for transport Researchers from the University of Washington begin to move a rare specimen indeed...the nearly complete skull of a Tyrannosaurus rex! (Dave DeMar/Burke Museum)

What's your favourite dinosaur?

Ask anyone of any age that question. We doubt that you'd have to ask more than three people before you hear someone say, "T. rex!" Then that person will immediately curl their shoulders, lean forward, bring their hands up close to their chest to mime tiny arms, before scrunching up their face and going, ROOOAAARRRRRRR!

Yep, people love their Tyrannosauruses. But despite its huge popularity, T.rex fossils are actually pretty rare. That's why after all of this time, it's still news in the dinosaur world when a major specimen is found. So break out the party hats, dino-lovers, because researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle just discovered a nearly complete T.rex skull.

Sounds worse than it is

Places like Hell Creek Formation in Montana are one of the world's best places for dinosaur fossils. (Getty Embed)

The discovery was made in the Hell Creek Formation in the badlands of Montana. Sounds like a pretty awful place, but don't let the name fool you. Especially if you love dinosaur fossils. Because this is one of the best places in the world to find them. (Drumheller in the badlands of Alberta is a similarly fruitful place for fossils from the dino era.) Hell Creek Formation is full of rolling, jutting hills and valleys cut by millions of years of seas and rivers. When dinosaurs died in this area their bodies were then buried under sediment carried by water, well preserved and eventually sealed in rock. These excellent conditions mean that paleontologists likely still have lifetimes worth of fossils left to discover in Hell Creek.

20% complete is no simple feat

Sue T.rex Chicago
A dino named Sue. She is the most complete T.rex in the world and is on display at the Field Museum in Chicago. (Wikimedia Commons)

Twenty percent of most things doesn't sound like a lot. But in the world of dinosaur fossils, it's actually a pretty big deal. Even "complete" looking skeletons of dinosaurs that you see at a museum usually contain very little actual fossils dug from the earth. The rest is filled in with casts based on the knowledge of what the dinosaur looked like. It may sound like cheating, but these gaps in the fossils are just a fact of life. After all, these things are many millions of years old! The most complete T.rex fossil in the world is Sue, an over 90% complete Tyrannosaur on display at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois.

T.rex skull upside down
The skull early on in the excavation process. The skull is upside-down in the rock and you can see a black tooth from the jawbone poking through the rock in the centre of the photo. (Larry Mose/Burke Museum)

This new discovery, called the Tufts-Love Rex after its discoverers, Luke Tufts and Jason Love, is only 20% complete. But the skull of the animal appears to very complete. We say "appears" because the left side of the skull is still buried within the rock. But if it's in the same shape as the right side, it could be one of the 15 best preserved T.rex skulls in the world. In addition to its impressive noggin, the fossil also includes parts of the animal's vertebrae (backbone), hips, and ribs.

Though there is still much work to be done for a full display, the home for this skeleton will be the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle.

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