close
close

Three boys found the T. rex fossil in North Dakota

Two young brothers and their cousin were wandering through a fossil-rich stretch 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 publicly announced their discovery Monday during a Zoom news conference, as workers at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science prepare to extract the fossil from the rock mold during a special exhibit called Discovering Teen Rex. The opening of the exhibition on June 21 coincides with the debut of the film ‘T.REX’, about the discovery from July 2022.

It all started when Kaiden Madsen, then 9, along with his cousins, Liam and Jessin Fisher, then 7 and 10, took a walk through a plot 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 just never know what you’re going to find there. You see all kinds of cool rocks, plants and wildlife,” he said.

Liam Fisher recalled that he and his father, who accompanied the trio, saw the young carnivore’s bone for the first time. After his death, about 67 million years ago, he was buried in the Hell Creek Formation, a popular paleontological playground that stretches across Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. The formation has yielded some of the best preserved T. rex fossils ever. Among them are Sue, a popular attraction at the Field Museum in Chicago, and Wyrex, a star at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

But none of them knew it at the time. Liam said he thought the bone sticking out of the rock was something he described as a “chunk-osaurus” – a made-up name for fragments of fossils that are too small to be identifiable.

Still, Sam Fisher took a photo and shared it with a family friend, Tyler Lyson, associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.

Initially, Lyson suspected it was a relatively common duck-billed dinosaur. But he organized a dig that started last summer and added the boys and a sister, Emalynn Fisher, now 14, to the team.

It didn’t take long before they realized they had found something special. Lyson remembered that he and Jessin started digging where he thought they would find a neck bone.

“Instead of finding a cervical vertebra, we found the lower jaw with several teeth sticking out of it,” Lyson said. “And it doesn’t get more diagnostic than that, when you see these giant tyrannosaurus teeth staring back at you.”

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

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

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

He, Jessin and Kaiden – who the brothers consider another sibling – affectionately named the fossil “The Brothers.”

Based on the size of the tibia, experts estimate the dinosaur was 13 to 15 years old when it died and probably weighed about 3,500 pounds (1,587.57 kilograms) – about two-thirds the size of a full-grown adult.

Finally, a Black Hawk helicopter brought the plaster-covered mass to a waiting truck to drive it to the museum in Denver.

Lyson said more than 100 individual T. rex fossils have been unearthed, but many are fragmentary. It is still unclear how complete this fossil is. So far they know they have found a leg, hip, pelvis, a few tailbones and a good portion of the skull, Lyson said.

The public will be able to watch the crew chip away at the rock, which the museum estimates will take about a year.

“We wanted to share the preparation of this fossil with the public because it is a remarkable feeling,” Lyson said.

Jessin, a fan of the “Jurassic Park” films and an aspiring paleontologist, has continued to search for fossils and just a few days ago found a turtle shell.

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

Back To Top