All bones are accounted for in T. rex skull

The public can watch as the Tufts-Love T. rex skull is prepared each day. 
Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum

The Burke Museum’s paleontology team continues to make exciting progress preparing the "Tufts-Love" T. rex skull—one of around 15 Tyrannosaurus rex skulls known to exist in the world. The team has now found 100% of the dinosaur’s skull and jaw bones by bone count.

This significant milestone happened during recent exploration into the interior of the skull, where they found the right epipterygoid—a skull bone found in vertebrates. This thin and delicate bone is not often preserved in fossils. The Tufts-Love T. rex’s right epipterygoid is complete, and preserved in the correct anatomical position in the fossil.

In addition, the team has uncovered the left columella. In mammals, this bone is called the stapes—a tiny bone from within the middle ear that is the smallest bone in the human body. It's also the smallest bone in a T. rex, and is a thin and delicate rod that's only a few millimeters in diameter. The columella bone is extremely rare to find preserved in a T. rex. As Burke paleontologists continue removing bone from around the fossil, they will look for the right columella.

Bone of a T. rex

The Tufts-Love T. rex’s right epipterygoid is complete, and preserved in the correct anatomical position in the fossil.
Photo: Rachel Ormiston/Burke Museum

“I work on this T. rex all the time and there’s never a day where it doesn’t blow my mind.”

—Michael Holland, Fossil Preparator

With hardly any distortions or crushing of the bones, the Tufts-Love skull fossil is in spectacular condition.

“There are very few T. rex skulls in the world that are really able to offer that much intact anatomy. This puts us in a really excellent position in terms of what we’re able to display in terms of the exhibit in the New Burke, and also in terms of the scientific utility of the specimen,” Burke Museum Fossil Preparator Michael Holland said. “I work on this T. rex all the time and there’s never a day where it doesn’t blow my mind.”

Seated paleontologist working on a T. rex skull

Burke Museum fossil preparator Michael Holland works on the T. rex skull in the Testing, Testing 1-2-3: Work in Progress exhibit. 
Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum

Paleontologist working on T. rex skull

Burke Museum fossil preparator Michael Holland uses a large air scribe to carefully remove rock from the T. rex skull. 
Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum

Paleontologist working on T. rex skull

Burke Museum fossil preparator Michael Holland uses a large air scribe to carefully remove rock from the T. rex skull. 
Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum

“We’ve already received a number of requests from researchers to study this specimen,” Dr. Greg Wilson, Burke Museum curator of vertebrate paleontology and University of Washington associate professor of biology, said. “So it could eventually become among the most studied specimens of T. rex in the world and among the most studied specimens in the Burke collections.”

The Tufts-Love skull is being prepared in the publicly viewable paleontology lab in the Burke’s Testing, Testing 1-2-3: Work in Progress exhibit.

Every day, visitors can see the progress being made on the fossil. Currently, the right profile of the skull has been exposed, showing its beautiful teeth and skull shape. Much of the left side of the skull has also been uncovered, with current work preparing the interior architecture of the skull, which includes the braincase along with palatal bones from the roof of the mouth.

A Burke staff member in an inflatable T. rex costume looks through the window at the skull. 
Photo: Cathy Morris/Burke Museum

Burke paleontologists are doing a bit of a “nose job” on the fossil; the two premaxilla bones were located away from their original anatomical position. These bones have been removed to prepare further and will be reattached in their proper place on the skull when preparing it for exhibit. In the meantime, the removal of these bones gives a unique view of the inside of the T. rex’s nasal cavity.

What’s next for the Tufts-Love T. rex?
The Tufts-Love T. rex will continue to be prepared by the Burke’s paleontology team in the publicly visible lab in the Testing, Testing 1-2-3: Work in Progress exhibit on a daily basis until the current museum closes on December 30, 2018. Starting in early 2019, the T. rex skull will be mounted for display in the new Burke Museum (opening fall 2019).

After preparation of the Tufts-Love T. rex skull is complete, Burke paleontologists will turn their full efforts toward preparation of the other parts of the skeleton. They still don’t know all of what is in some of the plaster jackets from the field.

Come see the T. rex before the end of the year!
The current Burke Museum is open until December 30, 2018. Enjoy these T. rex viewing opportunities and fossil-themed events in the current building before the Burke Museum closes to move collections and build exhibits in the New Burke.

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