A Field Museum Docent’s Guide to Getting the Most From Your Museum Week Visit
As the museum highlights tour finishes, you'll be able to catch the SUE talk. While reading the digital rail information is a great introduction to SUE, listening to this talk will expose you to a far greater depth of information about the world’s largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. You’ll learn things like which bones were visible when fossil hunter Sue Hendrickson discovered the skeleton (hint: they’re a different color than the rest), what SUE sounded like (more like something you may have had for dinner than the ferocious roar from Jurassic Park), and the latest research on what those tiny arms were really for (probably not pushups). SUE will soon be going on hiatus as she spends the next year moving upstairs to the Evolving Planet exhibit, so this will be your last chance to see her in Stanley Field Hall. February will be a truly unique experience, as the Field Museum will be surrounding her with glass while she is being disassembled. If you happen to be visiting on a weekday, you’ll even be able to see workers taking her bones down. SUE talks will continue throughout February, allowing you to learn not just about SUE, but about the process of moving such precious cargo.Learn Something (Completely) New Every day there is a list of tours on the screen behind the information desk. The pro move, however, is to check the Google calendar available on the museum’s website up to two weeks in advance to plan your visit accordingly. While some of the topics are expected, you can also explore areas you’d never even thought of. I went on an excellent Friday afternoon tour about bird coloration, led by a young woman with a PhD in the subject. It's worth it to point out that even those of us who aren’t professional scientists are still avid fans who’ve read up and been formally tested, so any tour will be conducted by someone who is both knowledgeable and passionate. Ask Questions The friendly folks in powder blue Land’s End shirts are there to help you make the most of your visit. And while we're happy to point to the nearest restroom or direct you to the 3D theater, we’re also there to answer your questions about the Field Museum’s many treasures. The Pawnee Earth Lodge, for example, has an open house on weekdays from 1:00pm to 3:00 p.m. and weekends from 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with a docent on hand to answer your questions. I myself informally facilitate next to SUE, where I’ve gotten wonderful questions, including the following: Q: What did SUE die of? A: Old age. She was 28 years old (old for a T. Rex), and there’s evidence of bone disease like arthritis and osteoporosis, a parasitic infection in her jaw, and an infection in her lower left leg. Q: Is it real? A: SUE’s skeleton is over 90% real by volume. The major part of the skeleton that’s not real when you’re looking at it is her skull, which is housed upstairs, underneath the mural of SUE. It’s up there for three reasons:
- SUE’s bones fossilized with mostly iron, so her head now weights 600 pounds. It would be too heavy to mount with the current armature.
- The skull can be observed by scientists up close without having to manually take it down from its armature.
- After death, SUE’s powerful neck muscles began to decay, and eventually broke on the right side. This caused the still intact muscles on the other side to yank her head sideways, causing it land on her hip. There is now a large dent in the left side of her real skull, and a corresponding dent on the left side of her hip. When scientists made the cast of the skull, they bumped the dent out to make it look more like it did in life.