3 boys found a T. rex fossil in North Dakota. Now the Denver Museum is working to reveal it in full

DENVER — Two young brothers and their cousin were hiking through a fossil-rich area of ​​North Dakota’s badlands when they made a discovery that left them “completely speechless”: a T. rex bone sticking out of the ground.

The trio announced their discovery publicly Monday in a news conference via Zoom as workers at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science prepared to begin chipping away at the fossil from rock in a special exhibit called Discovering Teen Rex. The opening of the exhibition on June 21 will coincide with the premiere of the film “T.REX,” which revolves around the July 2022 discovery.

It all started when Cayden Madsen, then 9, joined his cousins, Liam and Jacen Fisher, then 7 and 10, on a hike across a patch of land owned by the Bureau of Land Management around Marmarth, North Dakota. Hiking is a favorite pastime of the brothers’ father, Sam Fisher.

“You never know what you’re going to discover there. You see all kinds of amazing rocks, plants and wildlife,” he said.

Liam Fisher remembers that he and his father, who accompanied the trio, first discovered the bone of the small carnivore. After dying about 67 million years ago, it was buried in the Hell Creek Formation, a famous paleontology playground that stretches across Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. This formation has produced some of the most well-preserved T. rex fossils ever found. Among them are Sue, a popular landmark at the Field Museum in Chicago, and Wirex, a star at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences.

But none of them knew that then. Liam said he thought the bone sticking out of the rock was something he described as a “dinosaur piece” – a nickname for fossil fragments too small to be recognisable.

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However, Sam Fisher took a photo and shared it with a family friend, Tyler Leeson, assistant curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

At first, Leeson suspected it was a relatively common duck-billed dinosaur. But he organized an excavation that began last summer, adding the boys and their sister Emmaline Fisher, now 14, to the team.

It didn’t take long to determine that they had found something even more special. Leeson recalls that he and Jessen began digging where he thought he might find a neck bone.

“Instead of finding cervical vertebrae, we found the lower jaw with several teeth sticking out of it,” Leeson said. “And it doesn’t get more diagnostic than that, seeing these giant tyrannosaur teeth staring back at you.”

A documentary crew from Giant Screen Films was on hand to film the discovery.

“It was electric. I got goosebumps,” recalls Dave Clark, who was part of a film crew for the documentary that was later narrated by “Jurassic Park” actor Sir Sam Neill.

Liam said his friends were skeptical. “They didn’t believe me at all,” he said.

He, Jaysen and Kayden — whom the brothers consider another sibling — affectionately called the fossil “brothers.”

Based on the size of the leg bone, experts estimate that the dinosaur was between 13 and 15 years old when it died, and likely weighed about 3,500 pounds, about two-thirds the size of a full-grown adult.

Eventually, a Black Hawk helicopter transferred the plastered block to a waiting truck to transport it to the Denver Museum.

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More than 100 individual T. rex fossils have been discovered, but many are fragmentary, Leeson said. It is not yet clear how complete this fossil is. So far, they know they’ve found a leg, a hip, a pelvis, two tailbones and a large piece of a skull, Leeson said.

The public will be able to watch crews remove the rocks, which the museum estimates will take about a year.

“We wanted to share the preparation of this fossil with the public because it feels great,” Leeson said.

A Jurassic Park fan and aspiring paleontologist, Jessen continued searching for fossils and found a turtle shell just two days ago.

For other kids, he had this advice: “Just put down their electronic devices and go for a walk.”

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