The Smithsonian took possession Tuesday morning of 16 crates containing a nearly complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, an event 66 million years and one federal shutdown in the making.
The bones arrived in a FedEx truck after traveling more than 2,000 miles from Montana, where they were discovered in 1988 by rancher Kathy Wankel on federal land. The arrival of the fossilized beast in DC marks the first time the Smithsonian has possessed a T. rex this complete since its natural history museum opened in 1911. Only half a dozen comparable skeletons—this one is estimated to have 80 to 85 percent of its parts—have been unearthed before. The T. rex was supposed to get here last October, but last year’s federal shutdown forced the Smithsonian to delay the shipment.
Museum officials showed off body parts like the T. rex’s banana-sized teeth and arm bone, not much bigger than a human arm, lending credence to the image of a Tyrannosaur stomping around while weilding tiny arms. Visitors will get to the disassembled bones for the next six months as museum employees unpack, repair, and catalog them with several methods including 3-D imaging.
On October 15 (also known as National Fossil Day), they’ll be packed up and shipped out again: “The Nation’s T. rex,” as the Smithsonian calls the skeleton, is going to Canada for a while. The bones will be sent to a facility in Toronto where they’ll be mounted on the armature that will prop up the assembled skeleton when it goes on full display when the Smithsonian’s dinosaur hall re-opens in 2019 after a five-year, $48 million renovation beginning this month.