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Family hikes in North Dakota's Badlands and discovers a rare T-Rex fossil

Let's get prehistoric! A family's hiking trip ended with a rare find like no other. They discovered a T-Rex fossil. All in all, not bad for these amateur fossil hunters.

A father, his two sons, and their cousin went hiking in the North Dakota Badlands in 2022. That's where they discovered the specimen. All four have been amateur fossil hunters for some time. They were well aware that the area is known for its large number of discovered T-Rex skeletons. However, they did not expect to make a find themselves. Sam Fisher, his sons Jessin and Liam, then 10 and 7 years old, and their cousin Kaiden Madsen made the discovery.

“My dad called out to Jessin and Kaiden and they came running,” Liam said during a press conference in Denver. “Dad said, 'What is that?' And Jessin said, 'That's a dinosaur!'” The four eventually posed for a photo. Sam then sent it to paleontologist and curator of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Dr. Tyler Lyson. The two had been friends since high school.

“I didn't know it was a T. rex because I only had photographs and the knee joint looked like a duck's bill,” Lyson said. “Later I looked at the photographs a little more closely. And the way the bone broke down into layers suggested it might be a meat-eating dinosaur.” His colleagues believed it was a duck's bill, but an excavation in 2023 proved it was actually a T. rex.

T-Rex on the way to the museum

Nevertheless, Lyson organized an excavation in July 2023 and brought the discoverers' family along. “The kids were there every step of the way, which was great,” he said. “We realized it was a T. rex on the first day. The cameras were rolling all the time.” They discovered the T. rex's lower jaw. “We uncovered a lower jaw with a bunch of teeth sticking out of it,” he added.

They eventually acquired a Black Hawk to fly the bones out, which will now be used as a museum exhibit. The museum has also documented them. Lyson said about 30% of the skeleton is still there.

“We know we have a jointed leg with hip bones, we have a couple of tail vertebrae and I think a decent chunk of skull. We're hoping there's a lot more of the skeleton inside the stone, but it's strange that we don't have ribs, we don't have arms, we don't have very many vertebrae – it could well be that there's more where this came from,” he said.

It's possible that the bones belong to a young T. rex, which is a rarity given the softer texture of the bones. Nick Longrich, a paleontologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Bath in the UK, commented on the find. “Tyrannosaurus is not common and young dinosaurs are incredibly rare, so young T. rex are the rarest of the rare,” he said.

Anna Harden

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