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Around the World: In Search of Sue the T-Rex in Southeast South Dakota

Jennifer Merin on

Everyone finds dinosaurs fascinating. Some people travel far and wide to see their remains. Others dedicate their lives to finding new specimens and bringing them to public attention.

One of the all-time great dinosaur finds occurred back in 1990, in the South Dakota Badlands, when a team of paleontologists lead by Pete Larson dug up a T-Rex, the largest and most complete specimen found to date.

Larson and his dedicated team labored arduously over the excavation for what must have seemed almost as long a period as it has been since dinos roamed the realm. Eventually they brought almost an entire skeleton to light, and set about piecing it together. They named her Sue, and took on the task of building a local museum to house her, a place where her human admirers could visit and get to know her.

Unfortunately, their plans were dashed by a host of individuals and government agencies who laid claim to Sue who, while her ownership was being disputed, languished in a heavily guarded warehouse.

The story of Sue and Larson is told in a very engaging documentary called “Dinosaur 13,” which is now viewable on Amazon Prime.

If you’re fascinated by dinosaurs, seeing the film is a must. The film will surely make you want to visit the town of Mitchell, South Dakota, which is at the heart of an area where dino-digging is a way of life.

In fact, Mitchell also boasts the Prehistoric Indian Village, an active archeological site where researchers reveal on a regular basis how Native Americans lived in the region some 1000 years ago in lodges with large upright posts and wattle and daub walls supporting their turf roofs.

At the Prehistoric Indian Village’s intriguingly constructed Thomsen Center Archeodome, you can actually watch archeologists painstakingly uncovering the original Native American settlement at the site. The researchers uncover the area inch by inch, finding the remains of an ancient civilization beneath layer upon layer of earth that has been deposited over them through the centuries. It’s fascinating to watch them work so carefully using small picks and brushes, laboring to uncover artifacts and other evidence without damaging it.

Ancient containers, remains of food, tools, utensils, clothing and skeletal remains appear, are cataloged and some are put on display.

There are also lessons given in how to search for the remains of ancient creatures and civilizations. Of course, techniques are taught, but the utmost lesson is really one of respect. It’s an essential lesson that applies elsewhere in life’s travels, as well.

The Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village is a wonderful place! But one thing you won’t find there, however, is Sue the T-Rex. Unfortunately, she never made it home from her warehouse incarceration..

Sue, as you’ll see in “Dinosaur 13,” wound up on the auction block at Sotheby’s. Pete Larson and his supporters couldn’t raise enough money to outbid Chicago’s Field Museum. So, Sue now resides in Chicago, and you can visit her there the next time you’re in town.

If you go to Southeastern South Dakota, expect exceptional friendliness and affordability throughout the area. For further information about lodging, travel arrangements, attractions and events, visit the Southeast South Dakota Website at

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Copyright 2019 Jennifer Merin


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