“Dinosaur 13,” Centers on the Discovery of Sue, the Largest and Most Complete T-Rex Dinosaur Ever Found
It also explores the ten-year battle that ensued with Peter Larson and his co-workers from the Black Hill Institute. The film is based on the book Rex Appeal: The Amazing Story of Sue, the Dinosaur That Changed Science, the Law, and My Life by Peter Larson and Kristin Donnan. I interviewed Peter Larson and director Todd Douglas Miller at the Field Museum in Chicago on August 4, 2014.
Sarah Knight Adamson: Peter, why do you think Sue was in such great condition, with so many bones? What’s your theory on that?
Peter Larson: We found her at exactly the right time. There was enough of her washed out that Susan was able to pick up a couple and bring them to me to identify. Then we were able to excavate all of her in a relatively short period of time, so we could preserve more of her.
If we had not found her when we did? If we had not excavated her when we did? That erosion right at that particular place was going so fast, that the pelvis would be completely gone by now. And, half of her skull, the toothy part.
SKA: Oh my goodness.
PL: You know, you have to be in the right place at the right time.
SKA: Sure. Todd, why is Sue so unique?
Todd Douglas Miller: Well, because of her story. You know, you can walk into any museum around the country and they have these great specimens. She’s not only unique because of how intact she is, how complete, how big she is. But also because of her story, her history.
What Peter and his team were able to do out in the field too, is just absolutely an amazing feat of human ingenuity. If you saw what you see in the film, that side of the cliff to excavate. Go dig down thirty feet and find this wonderful articulation in these bones. Then to get it out of there, and have the expertise to be able to do that, is just absolutely amazing.
SKA: Sure. Peter, I did feel that you had a true connection to Sue in your film.
PL: She’s my first love.
SKA: And I did feel your pain as well. Can you tell me about your attachment to Sue?
PL: Well, you know, she was, of course, our first T. Rex. She became a living entity to me. As we’re cleaning, we’re seeing things like the broken leg. Her left fibula had been shattered and then it was healing. But in the process of healing, it got a bacterial infection that lasted for the rest of her life.
Digging the ribs, we found two parts of a rib that was broken and infected, but never properly healed. When we cleaned on the inside, there was a piece of a T. Rex tooth stuck in the one side of the rib.
SKA: Oh my goodness.
PL: Every time we’d turn around, there was something new. This became a living entity. It’s like looking at someone’s photo album.
PL: You know, here are these snapshots of her life. Then, finding these parts of other T. Rexes with her. One with the leg that had been bitten through by another T. Rex. Maybe it was her, I don’t know. And parts of the smaller one. She’s still this living entity. This is such a very special fossil, on every level.
SKA: Sure. And I felt that you really brought that out in the film, Todd.
TDM: Oh, thanks.
SKA: You did an amazing job with that, particularly when you all were separated from Sue. Can you speak to that a little bit?
TDM: Yeah. I think Peter and his wife at the time period, Kristin Donnan, did a great job. Making me feel, as a reader, that you’re moving through this time period, for, in this case, was give or take ten years. In the film, I wanted to tell that ten-year story.
It was very important for us. Me, just from an editing standpoint, to have it delineate where we are in time. But also where the parallel path of the story between Peter and Sue, and where they were after the divergent paths had started.
SKA: What have we learned from this discovery? About dinosaurs?
PL: We know so much more now about the physiology and even the anatomy of Tyrannosaurus Rex. We can also now determine, in this particular dinosaur, what’s a boy and what’s a girl. Which is pretty important.
Just you know, without going through a long list, there’s just so many different aspects of behavior that we’re also able to look at. That were never really preserved in any other specimen before Sue.
SKA: Peter, I have to ask you, are there any new dinosaurs you’ve discovered?
PL: We’ve just collected our tenth T. Rex.
SKA: Oh my goodness.
PL: I just came, day before yesterday, I left the field and then flew out here yesterday morning.
PL: We left a T. Rex feeding site, where we have a Triceratops that’s been fed upon by T. Rex. I knew that because they’ve had the ends of the bones bitten. One of the last bones that we turned over, one of the tibias actually has a T. Rex tooth on the back side of it. Absolute proof that it was a T. Rex feeding site.
SKA: I am so delighted that you are so energetic about your work in this field. This is so wonderful.
TDM: He’s a very passionate person.
SKA: You really are. I think it’s just fantastic. Have you named any of those new dinosaurs?
PL: We have. We have the T. Rexes we’ve collected. Of course there’s Sue, then there’s Stan for Stan Sacrison, who found him. Then we have Duffy; that was named after Sue’s lawyer. The only dinosaur who ever had a lawyer. (Laughing)
SKA: Okay, I like that.
PL: Then we have Steven, who is named after Stan Sacrison’s twin brother, who also found a T. Rex. You’re going to be hearing more about that one soon. We have Bucky, named for Bucky Derflinger.
PL: One’s named after me. It’s named Pete for me.
SKA: Todd, I see a follow-up movie here.
TDM: Yeah, Dinosaur 14.
SKA: I want to thank you both so much for speaking with me today. And good luck with the movie. I really did enjoy it. It’s very educational; I think people are going to get a lot out of it.
Sarah Knight Adamson © August 7, 2014