T. Rex Fossil with Well Preserved Skull Found in Montana

The famed Hell Creek Formation yields multiple bones from the iconic beast.

Photo: Paleontologists work to excavate a Tyrannosaurus rex skull from a fossil dig site in northern Montana and transport it to the Burke Museum. Credit: Dave DeMar/Burke Museum There's a new Tyrannosaurus rex fossil on the block, with a cute nickname and about 20% of its former body intact, including a well-preserved skull.

The T. rex was found by paleontologists from Burke Museum and the University of Washington (UW) in Montana's famous dinosaur-fossil haven, the Hell Creek Formation. It has been dubbed the "Tufts-Love Rex," in honor of the volunteer paleontologists who first noticed bones jutting out of a hillside: Burke Museum's Jason Love and Luke Tufts.

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The Burke and UW researchers say they were able to unearth roughly a fifth of the animal, including ribs, hips, jaw bones and vertebrae. (They'll search for more pieces of the iconic beast next summer.)

But the centerpiece of the find is the skull, which is about 4 feet long. So far, the scientists can see the right side of the skull -- from base to snout, including teeth -- and they think it's likely the left side, now trapped in rock, is intact too. (They'll begin the painstaking process of removing the remaining rock in October.)

The researchers estimate Tufts-Love lived about 66.3 million years ago, making its living toward the end of the Cretaceous Period, not geologically long before a mass extinction wiped out the dinosaurs. They also reckon, due to skull size, that the T. rex was 15 years old when it died, putting it about halfway through a typical T. rex lifespan.

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The fearsome meat-eaters, with enormous jaws and razor-sharp teeth, were around 40 feet long and stood up to 20 feet tall. This find, the researchers say, would have been the height of a city bus at its hips and as long as one from head to tail-tip.

Tyrannosaurus rex fossils are uncommon finds, and even more so are well-preserved skulls. The UW and Burke team said their find marks just the 15th fairly complete skull in the world.

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The skull is currently encased in a plaster jacket, the whole package weighing about 2,500 pounds. The plaster cover kept the Tufts-Love Rex intact during a move from its longtime home on a Montana hillside to its new digs at the Burke Museum in Seattle. (See video below for its arrival at the museum.) There it will go on display, still in the plaster casing, for a quick look by the public before going into long-term study by scientists beginning in October.

Just separating the skull from the rock that surrounds it could take more than a year, the researchers said.

"We think the Tufts-Love Rex is going to be an iconic specimen for the Burke Museum and the state of Washington and will be a must-see for dinosaur researchers as well," said research lead Gregory P. Wilson, a UW biology professor and Burke Museum curator, in a statement.

"Having seen the 'Tufts-Love Rex' during its excavation, I can attest to the fact that it is definitely one of the most significant specimens yet found, and because of its size, is sure to yield important information about the growth and possible eating habits of these magnificent animals," added Jack Horner, a Burke Museum researcher who founded the Hell Creek project Wilson now leads.

VIEW PHOTOS: Skull and Bones - T. Rex Fossil Photos

style="text-align: left;">This week came the news of a "major" fossil find: A Tyrannosaurus rex from Montana's famous Hell Creek Formation, one with what paleontologists expect will be a fully intact skull (only half the skull is visible now; the other is still encased in rock). Well preserved T. rex skulls are tough to come by, with scarcely more than a dozen curated in the world. On the heels of the new find, we thought it would be fun to take a look at a few more pieces of T. rex, just to appreciate the wonder that this creature must have been.

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style="text-align: left;">Photo: University of Washington

style="text-align: left;">If you ever wanted to get the full "how fierce was it?" T. rex experience, you could always start with "SUE," probably the most famous collection of dinosaur bones in the world. She's considered the biggest, most complete T. rex skeleton ever discovered. Found in South Dakota in 1990, she gets her name from her discoverer, paleontologist Sue Hendrickson. She lives in Chicago's Field Museum and measures 42 feet long from snout to tail, standing about 13 feet tall at the hip. FYI, that's not her real skull -- it's a replica. Her real noggin, all 600 pounds of it, is displayed in a different exhibit.

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style="text-align: left;">Photo: Getty Images/Richard T. Nowitz

style="text-align: left;">If you're thinking this is a T. rex claw, you're thinking right. It's a toe claw, one of three it had per hind limb. They were sharp and well suited to hunting whatever prey the big carnivore wanted to take down.

style="text-align: left;">RELATED: Dinosaur Claws Evolved from Basic to Badass

style="text-align: left;">Photo: Getty Images/Walter Geiersperger

style="text-align: left;">Remember "SUE"? Here are a few of her teeth. Yikes. T. rex teeth were deeply serrated, flesh-tearing weapons that could be up to 1 foot long. The iconic dinosaur had the strongest bite of any terrestrial animal ever known.

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style="text-align: left;">Photo: Corbis/VCG

style="text-align: left;">More teeth, if you can handle the sight of chompers as big as human hands.

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rel="text-align: left;" style="text-align: left;">Photo: Getty Images/Layne Kennedy

style="text-align: left;">Finding a T. rex fossil is all fun and games, until you have to clear away the dirt and rock encasing one without damaging the precious find itself. Here, a high-pressure hose is used to carefully sandblast dirt from a pelvic bone of "Stan" the T. rex, at the Black Hills Institute of Geologic Research. To extract the new skull just found in Montana, paleontologists say it could take up to one year.

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style="text-align: left;">Photo: Getty Images/Layne Kennedy

style="text-align: left;">Just for sheer scale, here's SUE's real head next to the decidedly smaller one of paleontologist Peter Larson, president of South Dakota's Black Hill Institute of Geological Research.

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rel="text-align: left;" style="text-align: left;">Photo: Getty Image/Layne Kennedy

style="text-align: left;">Here is SUE's gigantic jaw bone.

style="text-align: left;">RELATED: T. rex Could Open Jaw Really Really Wide

style="text-align: left;">Photo: Corbis/VCG

style="text-align: left;">T. rex's tail was long, in order to balance out its enormous, weighty head. The tail could have upwards of 40 vertebrae. Here's a closer look at SUE's tail. Researchers say some of her vertebrae were fused and suggestive of arthritis.

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style="text-align: left;">Photo: Philip Gould