An Explorer’s Life: Sue Hendrickson

On a foggy August morning near Faith, South Dakota, self-taught fossil expert Sue Hendrickson and her dog went exploring alone while the rest of her paleontological team from the Black Hills Institute of South Dakota helped fix a flat tire on the side of the road. Hendrickson had already spent weeks combing the area looking for vestiges of the past, and on that morning, she happened upon something extraordinary.

Jutting out of the side of a cliff about eight feet from the ground, Hendrickson saw three large bones. Over the next few weeks, Hendrickson and the team led by paleontologist Peter Larson carefully and painstakingly unearthed the fossilized remains of a Tyrannosaurus Rex – the largest and most complete specimen ever discovered. The forty-two feet long giant aptly named “Sue” is on permanent display at the field museum in Chicago, Illinois.

Sue, the most complete fossil skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex specimen ever found.

Sue, the most complete fossil skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex specimen ever found.

Native of Chicago, Sue Hendrickson grew up in an Indiana suburb of Chicago, where she made her first archeological “find” at the age of four – a small brass perfume bottle plucked from a wire bin in an alley.

Her explorations led her as a young adult to the Florida Keys where she learned to dive and helped to salvage a shipwreck boats caught in the reef. Hendrickson participating in many diving expeditions hunting and finding underwater treasure in the Alexandria River in Egypt and off the coast of the Philippines. On a trip to the Dominican Republic visiting an amber mine, she became interested in fossils after seeing an ancient insect preserved in amber. In addition to finding “Sue,” Hendrickson has uncovered three perfect 23-million year old butterflies encased in amber, and on an excavation trip in Peru, she helped to uncover fossilized whale and other ancient marine life in the Peruvian dessert.

Today, Hendrickson lives in Guanaja, Honduras, where she works to protect the environment. Hendrickson’s advice to other explorers, “Never lose your curiosity about everything in the universe – it can take you to places you never thought possible!”

About Kristen LePine
KRISTEN LEPINE is the co-founder and Executive Director of Historic Heroines. An accomplished writer, educator and mother, Kristen is often inspired by history and current events. She wrote about Nellie Bly and mental health care in CRACKED POTS, a play commissioned by Theatre J in Washington DC. Currently she is working on a historical novel set in ancient Sparta. Visit her at

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