Answer to Map #107

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Answer: This week’s dot map depicted the locations where tyrannosaurus rex skeletons were discovered (in red) and the places where you could view those skeletons in a museum today (in cyan).

Even in its heyday, the tyrannosaurus rex did not have a wide range. It was found only on the island of Laramidia, which encompassed much of what is now the western United States. Consequently, you can’t find tyrannosaurus rex skeletons outside of the western U.S. and Canada. Moreover, if you’re looking for dinosaur fossils, then you have to go to places where constant erosion is revealing the ancient rock underneath. The perfect areas for tyrannosaurus rex fossil hunting are in the badlands terrain of eastern Montana and western South Dakota. The most fossils have been found in a group of rocks known as the Hell Creek Formation, which is centered in eastern Montana but extends into several neighboring states.

If you don’t want to do the painstaking work of locating and digging up a fossil, but instead just want to look at one in a museum, then you have many more options. You can find partial tyrannosaurus rex skeletons in many American cities, plus London, Berlin, and two fairly remote towns in Canada. The most complete skeleton, comprising about 85% of the original dinosaur, is nicknamed “Sue” and can be found in Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. You can also see a nearly complete display in New York’s American Museum of Natural History, but that one is a little more complicated. Do you see how New York City has two dots on the map? That’s because the single display in the American Museum of Natural History is built from the bones of two different tyrannosaurus rex fossils.

Not all known tyrannosaurus rex skeletons are currently on display. The most recent such fossil to be discovered, which was located in 2016, is in the process of being studied. It will go on display in late 2019 when the new building of the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture is completed in Seattle (we went ahead and gave Seattle a dot anyway). There is also a partial tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in private hands. That fossil contains the most complete tyrannosaurus rex skull ever discovered, but it is only intermittently on public display.

It was also a big challenge to place all the red dots on this map. That’s because tyrannosaurus rex fossils tend to turn up in remote environs—and because the people who find them don’t necessarily want others to know exactly where they were found. Fossil hunting is big business, with museums paying millions of dollars to acquire new ones. Skeletons are sometimes uncovered on privately owned land. Other times, they are located on public lands and excavated with special permits from the local, state, or federal government. In a few cases, we have had to guess when the location of the fossil’s origin is listed only as something as vague as “eastern Montana.”

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