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Seattle, WA – For the next several months, visitors to the University of Washington’s Burke Museum will get to see the skull of a bonafide Tyrannosaurs Rex be revealed in real time.

Discovered in the summer of 2016 in northeast’s Montana’s Hell Creek Formation, the 66-million-year-old specimen is 4 feet long and weighs 3,000 pounds in its field jacket. It is the first to be discovered in in Washington state and one of only 15 intact T. rex skulls ever discovered.

Named “Tufts-Love Rex” in honor of the two volunteers who discovered it, Jason Love and Luke Tufts, the skull has required two summers to excavate. along with ribs, vertebrae, and parts of the jaw, pelvis, and a shoulder blade.

Greg Wilson, the Burke Museum’s curator of vertebrate paleontology and the team’s lead researcher, theorizes that the team may also may have found a tiny humerus – an arm bone. More rock will need to be removed from around the fossil to confirm this discovery.

Roughly 30 percent – or 90 bones – of the dinosaur has been found to date — making the “Tufts-Love Rex” one of the top 10 most complete T. rex skeletons to date.

A team of paleontologists and trained volunteers will begin the intricate work of removing the rock engulfing the skull in one of a series of public labs showcasing the museum’s behind the scenes work.

The team will use small tools like dental picks to chip away at sandstone soft enough to be scraped away with a fingernail. The bones are nevertheless well preserved – so much that the bone looks like it might have when the dinosaur first died.

This is one of the few times the public has been allowed to see the preparation of a T. rex – it is even rarer to be able to see the process performed on a T. rex skull.

The Burke’s team of trained volunteers will spend the next few months uncovering the T. rex skull. Custom-designed equipment was created to hold the massive skull, which would break ordinary lab tables. The skull will be placed in a “T. Rex Rotisserie Rack” – a rotating cage that will allow the team to access all sides of the skull while removing the rock surrounding the bones.

Rather than slow-cooking a chicken, the rack can hold up to 6,000 pounds of fossil. The device sits on a wheeled frame made of two-inch tube steel, allowing the Burke’s paleontology team to safely rotate the fossil as they work. Each rod can be individually removed so the team can better access any part of the skull.

Each time the skull is rotated in the rack, the team will apply rigid urethane foam between the rack’s bars and the fossil to create a custom cradle, distributing the weight across the bars and relieving pressure points that could damage the skull. The areas of the fossil that are bearing weight will continue to be covered in a plaster jacket akin to a cast used to set a broken bone.

After applying a consolidant to harden them, the bones can be handled for research or exhibit mounting. The portions of the skull that the prep team can see emerging so far suggest the individual bones that make up the skull are still connected. The team will start on removing as much of the rock as possible from the exterior surfaces of the skull, leaving the bones in place.

Once free of all the rock surrounding it, the skull will be placed on display in the New Burke Museum when it opens in 2019.

Sources:

Looking for the rest of the T-rex: http://www.burkemuseum.org/blog/looking-rest-t-rex

Paleontologists with the UW’s Burke Museum discover major T. rex fossil: http://www.washington.edu/news/2016/08/18/paleontologists-with-the-burke-museum-uw-discover-major-t-rex-fossil/

Getting schooled by T-Rex: https://artsci.washington.edu/news/2016-09/DIG

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