Deep Sea Diver and Dinosaur Hunter
Curiosity and serendipity helped Sue Hendrickson carve out an ideal life as an explorer.
Hendrickson was raised in Indiana but left high school before graduating. . (She eventually picked up a high school diploma.) She moved to Florida and then California where she sailed and earned a living helping with boat maintenance. One day she stopped at a tropical fish store and wanted to know where the fish came from. She immediately decided that diving for tropical fish was going to be her career.
During a dive for tropical fish in the Dominican Republic, a friend showed Hendrickson a fossilized insect preserved in amber. She was fascinated and began reading all she could about what was a twenty-three-million-year-old fossil. Soon she began visiting the amber mine regularly and started providing many museums and universities with amber fossils. This work put her in touch with a paleontologist who invited her to join him on a dig for whale fossils in Peru.
Hendrickson’s biggest find was yet to come. While in Peru, Hendrickson was invited to join a dinosaur dig in the United States and she accepted, spending summers digging with the group in South Dakota. One day (summer of 1990), the truck they were driving got a flat tire. The others went off to get help; Hendrickson and her dog stayed with the truck. As she waited, she examined the earth and noted something she thought merited investigation.
When the group returned, Hendrickson showed them her find, and they went back to dig carefully around the bone. All the work had to be done by hand because machinery might have caused damage. Five days later, they had removed thirty feet of rock and could see that what they had was a dinosaur skeleton. By the end of a month’s work, they knew they were uncovering the most complete, best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex ever found. (The first T-rex skeleton was discovered in 1900. Since then only seven skeletons have been uncovered, most are less than half complete.)
This find was christened Sue, in honor of Sue Hendrickson, and it was taken back to the Black Hills Institute for a time. It was eventually purchased by the Field Museum in Chicago and remains on display there.
Hendrickson continues to pursue her dual focus on underwater archaeology, uncovering shipwrecks and remains; her website says she has recently found the “Sue of shipwrecks.” She also hopes to travel to the coldest regions of Russia to search for the remains of a wooly mammoth trapped by ice, which may teach us more about the age of the earth and its future.
For more information, visit her website: www.suehendrickson.net.