Cashing in on T. rex

In the United States’ legal system I believe there is a statute of limitations.  It doesn’t apply to the Cretaceous Period.  More precisely, the most complete and fierce-looking specimen of a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton has been the subject of legal wrangles from the moment she – a female named Sue after Sue Hendrickson of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research (BHIGR), South Dakota who found her – was excavated.  The legal saga is the subject of a new book by a lawyer, Steve Fiffer (Tyrannosaurus Sue, Freeman, New York, ISBN 0-7167-4017-6).  The trouble started when the owner of the land on which Sue was discovered in 1990 was paid a paltry US$5000 for the privilege of seeing the awful fossil removed.  The rancher’s subsequent claim on her was matched by another from the Cheyenne River Sioux, because the owner had placed his land in trust with the US Department of the Interior, and that conveys certain advantages to Native Americans….  The plot indeed thickened.  The FBI and the local sheriff pounced on the hapless saurischian in 1992, and the National Guard supervised her impoundment, pending due process of law.  Five years of hearings and criminal proceedings later –  a raft of 148 felonies and 6 misdemeanours fell on the owners of BHIGR and one was jailed for 18 months – Sue became probably the oddest lot at Sotheby’s auction rooms.  To add further insult, the auction price of US$8.36 million was partly raised by Disney and McDonald’s, and the landowner made US$7.6 million after commission.  Sue now entertains in Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History.

Source: Pojeta, J., 2000.  Fossils, G-men, money and museums.  Science, v. 289 8 September 2000, p. 1695-1696.

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