Kids Discover Tyrannosaurus Rex Fossil in North Dakota

The bones belonged to a dinosaur that was likely a teenager when it died. Only a handful of young T. rex skeletons have ever been found

Three kids sitting with shovels on a hillside with a documentary crew in the background
The three young explorers participated in the excavation of the fossilized remains. Dr. Tyler R. Lyson

In the summer of 2022, three boys made a rare scientific find while hunting for fossils on a hike in the Badlands near Marmarth, North Dakota. Brothers Liam and Jessin Fisher and their cousin Kaiden Madsen discovered the fossilized remains of a young Tyrannosaurus rex. Only a handful of the young dinosaurs have ever been found, according to a statement from the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

The juvenile dinosaur specimen can give researchers a better understanding of how the T. rex grew and developed, per a Q&A on the museum’s website. Visitors will be able to watch as scientists prepare the fossil and uncover more bones in the rock and dirt excavated from the discovery site.

“By going outside and embracing their passions and the thrill of discovery, these boys have made an incredible dinosaur discovery that advances science and deepens our understanding of the natural world,” Tyler Lyson, a paleontologist at the museum, says in the statement.

The boys are “really interested in fossils” and had been looking for dinosaur bones for several years, Lyson says in a video. “The Badlands in North and South Dakota is one of the best places in the world to find dinosaurs,” he adds.

The young explorers found the leg of a dinosaur in the Hell Creek Formation, a division of rocks dating to the end of the Cretaceous Period. That formation contains fossils of plants, small mammals and dinosaurs. Liam and Jessin’s father, Sam, sent a picture of Liam lying next to the leg to Lyson.

Based on the picture, Lyson wasn’t sure what type of dinosaur it was, but first thought that it could be a duck-billed dinosaur, the second-most common type of dinosaur found in the Badlands.

The following summer, Lyson’s team, with help from the children, went to the site to excavate the fossil. Lyson says that when they visited the site the day before the excavation, he saw that the bone was breaking up and looked like broken porcelain, a characteristic of the bones of meat-eating dinosaurs.

The next day Lyson and Jessin were digging in a place where Lyson thought they might find a neck bone. But to their surprise, they unearthed some large teeth.

“Instead of finding a cervical vertebrae, we found the lower jaw with several teeth sticking out of it,” Lyson tells Heather Hollingsworth of the Associated Press (AP). “And it doesn’t get any more diagnostic than that, seeing these giant tyrannosaurus teeth staring back at you.”

A helicopter carried the 6,000-pound specimen—a weight that includes the rock containing the bones and the plaster and burlap holding the sample—off the side of a hill and moved it onto a trailer that carried it to the museum in Denver. A documentary with footage from the excavation will play at the museum on June 21.

The tibia from the specimen was roughly 32 inches long. An adult T. rex tibia has measured at roughly 44 inches, suggesting that the recent find is from a teenage dinosaur, per the museum. The researchers estimate that the dinosaur was 25 feet long, stood 10 feet tall and weighed around 3,500 pounds at the time of its death. Adults could reach 40 feet in length and weigh 8,000 pounds. Researchers will use more detailed analyses to get an estimate of the dinosaur’s age when it died.

The bones will help scientists to better understand T. rex behavior and biology and the transition from dinosaur adolescence to adulthood, per the museum.

Jessin Fisher tells the AP that he has continued to search for fossils. He also shares advice for other kids with the publication He recommends they “put down their electronics and go out hiking."

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