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Smithsonian Museum Welcomes 'The Nation's T. Rex' to Washington DC

Apr 15, 2014 01:41 PM EDT
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After being carefully packed into shipping containers and hauled across the country in a FedEx truck, a priceless, nearly complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton has arrived at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, where it will spend the next 50 years.

The T. rex skeleton left its home at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont. late last week, held within 16 shipping containers transported inside a specialized trailer equipped with around-the-clock surveillance and monitoring.

The skeleton arrived in Washington on Sunday and was held in a secure location about an hour away from the museum before being delivered on schedule early Tuesday morning, complete with a police escort, according to the Washington Post.

The 65 million-year-old skeleton is intended to be the centerpiece of the museum's new $35 million National Fossil Hall, which will open in 2019. The museum's current dinosaur hall will be closed from April 28 in order to make preparations for the new exhibit.

"To celebrate the legacy of dinosaurs in the Nation's capital, a variety of programs will be offered for the remainder of the month of April," the Smithsonian said in a statement Tuesday. "The museum also plans to launch three interim dinosaur-focused exhibitions this year that will give visitors a chance to immerse themselves in the ancient world of dinosaurs and cutting-edge paleontological research."

Museum director Kirk Johnson signed for the delivery of the skeleton at 6:30 Tuesday morning, according to the Washington Post.

"We could not be more excited to welcome the Nation's T. rex to Washington so it can be enjoyed by our 8 million visitors a year and serve as a gateway to the vast world of scientific discovery," Johnson said in a statement.

The museum refers to the skeleton as "the Nation's T. rex," but it is also known as the Wankel T. rex, named after the Montana rancher Kathy Wankel, who found the skeleton on federal land in 1988.

At 80-85 percent intact, the Wankel T. rex is one of the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons ever recovered.

The T. rex was originally scheduled to arrive at the museum in October 2013, but the 16-day shutdown of the US federal government stalled the transportation process, which required coordination of a number of federal entities, including the National Parks Service and the US Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the skeleton.

By the time the government was functioning again, wintery weather posed too much of a risk and the skeleton's transportation was postponed until spring.

"We'd prefer not to move him out of Bozeman in the snow," Johnson said at the time. "It's a complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, and there aren't that many of those around. You don't want to ding him up."

Before it is put on display, the National Museum of Natural History will digitally scan every bone of the dinosaur to produce a virtual record of the T. rex. Once fully digitized, the data can be used to print replicas - from full-size to desktop - of the dinosaur.

In October the skeleton will be shipped again to Toronto, where where the mount for the fossil is being made, according to the Washington Post.

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