So Sue me, already!
Standing 13 feet tall at the hips and stretching 41 feet long with teeth as long as your forearm, Sue is the largest, most complete and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered.
This week, Sue is also a big event. With Hollywood-style razzle-dazzle, the reassembled skeleton went on display Wednesday for the first time.
In advance of the opening at Chicago's Field Museum, dinosaur logos were plastered on T-shirts and city buses, and the final look of the exhibit is shrouded in secrecy.
Sue, named after Sue Hendrickson, the fossil hunter who found her in 1990 in South Dakota, cost the natural history museum $8.36 million at an auction that had been delayed for years by a drawn-out legal battle that ended with Hendrickson's partner in jail.
"Awesome," the dinosaur's discoverer said Wednesday at the unveiling.
To cover the cost of the 65-million-year-old carnivore, the Field took on two mega-corporate partners, McDonald's and Disney. Both get exclusive rights to casts of Sue's bones.
But only the Field Museum's visitors get to see the bones themselves. The museum will display her in the main hall.
Her one-ton skull, too heavy to be mounted with the rest of the skeleton, was displayed in a case nearby. A lightweight cast will replace it on the skeleton.
"People, in all the alternatives they have in computer games, shopping, the Internet ... love real things," Field President John McCarter said.
The Sue exhibit is an example of an emerging blockbuster mentality among museums that are trying to compete with movies, theme parks, and sports for family free time. Big projects mean big money, which often means corporate sponsors. Sue was discovered by a private fossil hunting firm and sold to the highest bidder.
Paul Sereno, a paleontologist concerned about the corporatization of fossil hunting, already sees the signs of commercialization taking a negative toll on the ability of scientists to work unfettered by the demands of consumerism. In short, he has to has to rebury his digs to hide them from private hunters, who will raid a site for bones and teeth and sell them on the open market.
"What gets lost in the process is knowledge of ancient world, which sometimes you only get one or two chances to see. When it's gone, it's gone forever," Sereno says.
In Sue's case, the bones themselves will be on display for the public. But not all big finds could meet the seem fate, scientists worry.
Corporate machinations aside, the creators of the Sue exhibit sought to make it both fun and informative. The exhibit explain facts and theories about Sue, and explodes some Hollywood myths along the way.
For example, it explains that an examination of Sue's skull with an industrial CT scanner yielded the theory that the T. rex's olfactory bulbs which control the sense of smell were each bigger than the cerebrum, the thinking part of the brain.
"Remember the scene in Jurassic Park with the T. rex?" asked the exhibit's assistant developer, Becky Margolin. "When Sam Neill was telling the kids if you don't move, it can't see you? The thing we can now theorize is that he definitely would have smelled them and would have eaten them anyway."
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