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Denver museum to unveil rare T. rex fossil discovered by three North Dakota boys

Three boys wandering the North Dakota badlands discovered a T. rex fossil. Now, a team at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science will work to reveal it in a special exhibit.
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Posted at 10:04 AM, Jun 04, 2024

DENVER — A team at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science is working to fully reveal a rare Tyrannosaurus rex fossil discovered in the North Dakota badlands nearly two years ago.

Two brothers – Liam and Jessen Fisher, then ages 7 and 10, and their cousin, then-9-year-old Kaiden Madsen – were hiking through a fossil-rich stretch of barren terrain in July of 2022 when they found a bone protruding from the ground. Discussing the find publicly for the first time Monday, the boys said they first thought it could be what they call “chunkosaurus” – their term for unidentifiable fossil fragments common to the southwest corner of the state and the surrounding Hell Creek Formation.

Denver museum to unveil rare T. rex fossil discovered by 3 North Dakota boys

Still, the brothers’ father, Sam Fisher, who was with them at the time of the discovery, texted a photo of the find to his friend Tyler Lyson, the associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

Lyson said he and his colleagues first thought the bone could belong to a duckbill dinosaur, but were able to organize an excavation because the find was made on federal land.

He invited Sam, the boys and their sister along with paleontologists on the dig. Just hours into the excavation, it became clear they weren’t unearthing a duckbill dinosaur.

Dino Discovery
In this photo provided by Giant Screen Films, Jessin Fisher digs for fossils on public lands near his home in Marmath, N.D. (Sam Fisher/Giant Screen Films via AP)

“I'll always remember that first day of the dig and the moment that Jessen and I shared when we uncovered the lower jaw, with several big T. rex teeth sticking out of it,” Lyson said. “It was just an unbelievable moment.”

As fortune would have it, a film crew was there to document the discovery.

“It was electric,” said Dave Clark with Giant Screen Films, which produces ultra high-resolution nature films for IMAX screens and the like. “You got goosebumps, some people had tears in their eyes. [...] Just to uncover something so special, and be witness to it. It was an extraordinary moment.”

Dino Discovery
In this photo provided by Giant Screen Films, chief preparator Natalie Toth, left, of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, examines fossilized plants from the Cretaceous period in a moment captured by the crew of the documentary "T.REX," at a fossil dig site in North Dakota, named “The Brothers.” (Andy Wood/Giant Screen Films via AP)

A Black Hawk helicopter lifted the fossil and surrounding rock from the ground before it was driven to Denver.

Now, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science is tasked with revealing the rest of the fossil. They’ll chip away at the rock for a special exhibit at the museum debuting June 21, called “Discovering Teen Rex.”

Dinosaur exhibit at Denver Museum of Nature & Science

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It’s not yet clear how complete the fossil is, though Lyson said they’ve found a lower leg, the pelvis and multiple tail bones.

The documentary – called “T.REX” – will premiere later this month.