Jack Horner with Fort Peck T-rex

Jack Horner, Curator of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, provides scale for Tyrannosaurus rex fossils at the excavation site near the Fort Peck Reservoir in Montana in June 1990. Named for its discoverer, Kathy Wankel, the Wankel T.rex is estimated to have weighed six to seven tons.

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If Congress can't pass a budget, some ancient bones may get a little older before they grace the floor of the Smithsonian Institution.

In another example of the unforeseen ramifications of the lack of a federal budget, the staff of the Museum of the Rockies was fleshing out a backup plan after learning that the Smithsonian Institution might be unable to accept a shipment of dinosaur fossils.

The Wankel Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton was slated to leave the Museum of the Rockies — where it has resided for 13 years — on Oct. 11, bound for Washington, D.C. There, it will be on a 50-year loan as the centerpiece in the new paleo-biology hall of the National Museum of Natural History, scheduled to open in 2019.

But with Tuesday's government shutdown, the congressionally designated Smithsonian Institution was closed, along with its 19 museums, nine research facilities and the National Zoo.

Museum of the Rockies marketing director Mark Robinson said it's been difficult to learn much because few employees are still working at either the Smithsonian or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the dinosaur bones.

“The three entities have been working on this agreement for around three years, and now it may be on hold,” Robinson said. “The government will make the call on Friday.”

The Museum of the Rockies has already requested a 53-foot-long Federal Express semitrailer to transport the T. rex bones across the country. The truck is supposed to show up at the museum on Monday.

“They'll be providing security and their critical care, white-glove service for transporting very valuable cargo,” Robinson said. “If we do delay, we may have to wait until spring because no one will want to risk moving it during the winter. It's a pretty scientifically valuable specimen.”

If the shipment doesn't go this fall, the museum will store the bone bundles in a secure area, Robinson said.

Robinson will also have to cancel the police escort and all the speakers and food already planned for a send-off celebration on Oct. 11.

“The waving and goodbye-ing will just have to be later,” Robinson said.

The Wankel T. rex bones were discovered in 1988 on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land near the Fort Peck Reservoir by Montana rancher Kathy Wankel.

the time it was fully recovered in 1990, it was one of the most complete T. rex specimens with 80 to 85 percent of the skeleton intact.

The Smithsonian worked for five years to discover its own specimen in Montana but none matched the Wankel T. rex.

“It included the first T. rex arm bones ever discovered. It makes sense to have this be the most viewed fossil in the nation,” Robinson said.

A bronze replica of the skeleton will remain at the Museum of the Rockies and the bones will be returned at the end of the loan.

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