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Famous Fossil Hunters…or Paleontologists on the High Plains - November 22, 2013

Q: Some of the world’s most famous fossil hunters were born in Kansas. One of them became the first person to discover a complete fossil of Tyrannosaurus rex. What’s the name of this paleontologist who was born in Carbondale?barnum-brown-excavating-18029 AMNHFossil hunter Barnum Brown discovered and excavated the first Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, starting in 1902. Here, he's uncovering bones in a dusty field in 1901. (Image #18029/American Museum of Natural History)


A: Barnum Brown (And yes, he was named after P.T. Barnum.)


Barnum-Brown T-Rex-SkullIn 1907, Barnum Brown led an American Museum Expedition back to Hell Creek, Mont., where the first Tyrannosaurus skeleton had been discovered in 1902. The Expedition was successful in discovering a second T. rex skeleton (pictured). (Image via Linda Hall Library)

Famed paleontologist Barnum Brown was born in Carbondale on Feb. 12, 1873. He was named after legendary circus showman P.T. Barnum, whose show was traveling through Topeka about the same time. Among other things, Brown discovered the first documented remains of Tyrannosaurus rex. This discovery, and others, made him one of the most celebrated fossil hunters of his time.


The American Museum of Natural History sponsored him as he traveled across North America in search of fossils. In 1902, in southern Montana, he discovered and excavated the first documented remains of Tyrannosaurus rex. Brown also searched for fossils in Canada. It was here, along the Red Deer River, that Brown’s expedition enjoyed a friendly competition with another famous group of fossil hunters from Kansas, the Sternberg family. (The Sternberg Museum in Hays is home to many of their finds.)


T-RexBrown was affectionately known as Mr. Bones by his admirers. He died in 1963. An homage to the paleontologist was made in the 1998 IMAX film T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous, in which Brown was played by actor Laurie Murdoch.


Fun Factoid: During World War I and II, Brown worked as an "intelligence asset." It’s unclear whether he was a full-blown Top Secret spy because, well… such is the nature of the spy business.

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