You don’t often get a second chance to make a first impression, unless, of course, you’re one of the world’s most popular dinosaurs.
“It’s a different profile, a much more impressive profile in many ways, a pretty scary large animal, as opposed to a lighter, swifter animal,” says the Field Museum’s Director of Exhibitions, Jaap Hoogstraten, who has courted the leading lady of the dinosaurs since she arrived in Chicago nearly twenty years ago.
“Since we put her up in 2000, we’ve made discoveries about the pose. We’ve added the gastralia, which are the belly ribs which changes the outline of Sue quite a bit. Sue is much bulkier.”
The belly ribs are not a new discovery… they’ve existed since the fossil was recovered from obscurity in the rock formations of South Dakota in the early 1990s. That was the beginning of a long legal and physical journey for the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. Known as Sue, named for paleontologist Sue Hendrickson who discovered it, the well-preserved specimen arrived as the star attraction in Stanley Hall at the Field Museum in 2000.
But scientists only recently learned how the belly ribs fit onto the overall specimen, which now fundamentally changes what we know about the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
After a nearly year-long transition to a new exhibit specifically designed for her, Sue will look different to the millions who have seen the dinosaur before.
“I didn’t really realize that Sue weighed nine tons in real life,” says Hilary Hansen, project manager at the Field Museum. “I think really adding this gastralia, these belly ribs, really changes the profile for Sue, and you can get a sense of how formidable and imposing it must have been to share an environment with this animal.”
Hansen explains that the new exhibit doesn’t just change our understanding of the animal itself, such as the fact it probably couldn’t run, but it also show visitors Sue’s natural environment, and place in history.
“What we’re trying to do is bring together everything about Sue that was all over the museum into one space so our visitors can see this as a one stop shop for all things Sue.”
“It pushes what we know about T-Rex forward,” says Hoogstraten, including possible answers to how Sue met her fate.
“One possibility is that there was an infection, and that she possibly starved to death.”
The Field museum typically welcomes over one million visitors a year, a number Hilary Hansen expects to spike when the new Sue exhibit opens to the public just in time for the holiday rush.
“For the next three weeks or so, we’re expecting between seven to ten thousand visitors coming through a day.” Some, revisiting an old friend with a new look.
But even though science marches on, one mystery about Sue remains.
Despite the name, experts are still not sure if the dinosaur behind this fossil was male or female.