Fossil Friday - September 28, 2018

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On the bottom floor of the Kansas University Natural History Museum in Lawrence, there’s a small display case. Inside of it, there is a single bone, with the specimen number 1357 etched into its surface. I might seem otherwise unremarkable, but the bone’s story is interesting enough to merit a Fossil Friday edition dedicated to it. In 1895, a team from the university was prospecting in Wyoming. Among them was a young graduate student named Barnum Brown. Now, most of us already know how that story ends - Brown, the colorful fossil hunter, wartime intelligencer, and corporate spy, would unearth the bones of Tyrannosaurus rex seven years later in 1902.

But well before that fateful and productive expedition to Montana’s Hell Creek Formation, Brown was just another student, plodding around Wyoming under the tutelage of the renowned Samuel Williston. Brown developed a reputation for his field work during his time in Wyoming, and the experience certainly informed his later work. It’s easy to imagine that Brown held this bone in his hand at some point and pondered it curiously, without knowing that the bone would later be studied and identified as the pedal phalanx - one of the middle toe bones - of his Tyrannosaurus rex. And as the museum’s collection shows, Brown’s famous 1902 brush with the Tyrant King certainly wasn’t his first.