SALT LAKE CITY — The most complete remains of a tyrannosaur unearthed to date arrived via helicopter Sunday at the Natural History Museum of Utah.
Discovered two years ago in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by Alan Titus, the monument's paleontologist, the fossilized remains are 80 percent complete and 75 million years old, according to the museum.
Experts from the museum have helped painstakingly excavate and prepare the remains for transport.
"This site it truly amazing," said Tylor Birthisel, the museum's paleontology lab and field manager, speaking at the dig site in southern Utah.
Normally, Birthisel said, dinosaur remains are only about 20 or 30 percent complete, so finding even "bits and chunks" of a tyrannosaur would be exciting. This find, he said, is "truly amazing."
"As we started excavating, we noticed that all of the bones of the animal are all together," he said. "And then at the end we found the skull, and the skull looks perfect from what we can see."
Before this find, only partial tyrannosaur skulls had been found in the monument, Birthisel said. But as crews worked in May on excavating the remarkably complete remains, they suddenly found themselves staring into a practically complete profile.
"To see the whole thing complete, everyone was jumping up and down in the quarry. There were a few expletives dropped. It was just a great day," he recalled.
And just two weeks ago, as the underside of the skull was reached, the bottom jaw with several teeth still intact was found, attached as it would have been in life, Birthisel said.
Now, an additional two or three years will be invested in removing rock from the bones and getting the tyrannosaur "showcase ready" for the public, he said.
"I can't wait to get it back to the lab at the natural history museum," said Birthisel, who has spent two months readying the facility. "Everyone in my lab is geared up and ready to start cranking on this dinosaur ready."
Becky Menlove, associate director for the museum's visitor experience, said all at the facility are "thrilled" to have the tyrannosaur, which dates back to the Cretaceous Period, arriving at the facility.
"We have this large team of extremely dedicated volunteers who are well-trained to remove that rock matrix, stroke by stroke," Menlove said. "This will take many, many, many months — maybe years — to remove all of the matrix from the skeletal material, and during that time, there will be research underway."4 comments on this story
Finally, either the full remains or a reproduction of them, if research is continuing, will be displayed in the museum, she said.
Both Menlove and Birthisel emphasized that work is ongoing in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, where numerous fossilized dinosaurs, including new species, have been discovered. Crews in the area are currently working to extract several more sets of remains.
"This has been a location extremely rich for new dinosaurs," Menlove said. "It's extremely exciting anytime we find another dinosaur in Grand Staircase."
Contributing: Sean Moody