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Paleontologist from Mesa discovers relative to the T-Rex; owes career to childhood mentor

"At the point he is at, there's no stopping him"
Posted at 7:16 AM, Jul 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-05 10:36:06-04

TUCSON, Ariz. — A Paleontologist from Mesa discovered the fossils to the close relative of the Tyrannosaurs Rex Suskityrannus Hazelae in May.

This research and digging took Virgina Tech Assistant Professor Sterling Nesbitt almost 20 years. He said this relative roamed North America 92 million years ago at about three feet tall.

He said he first discovered a fossil related to this project back when he was 16 years old, around the time he first fell in love with paleontology. That's when he met his mentor Tom Olson.

"He was actually looking for fossils at a place next to the road that my mother and I stopped at to look for fossils too," Nesbitt said.

Olson was approached by Nesbitt's family who asked him what he was doing.

"I told them I was digging for fossils, and then they say Sterling wants to be a paleontologist," Tom Olson said. "And I go, 'wow, really? You're in the perfect spot, by the way I'm Tom' and that's how we met and then I started showing him my field notes and he says, I want to learn how to do that."

That's when the adventure began. Olson and Nesbitt then spent every other weekend after that meeting in different parts of Northern Arizona to search for fossils.

Olson is a Geology teacher in Benson now, where he teaches young kids in his class Geology for Kids. Kids get the opportunity to dig through rocks from all over Arizona to discover different fossils.

Olson said these kids remind him of 20 years ago when Nesbitt was first discovering his love for fossils, "because he didn't know what he was finding at that first fossil site."

With all the knowledge Olson instilled in Nesbitt, he said he was able to discover the fossils for the relative to the T-rex Suskityrannus Hazelae.

"He was very influential in showing me how to look for fossils, and really, how to stay in one place and make sure you cover all parts of rocks," Nesbitt said.

Olson said he couldn't be prouder of Nesbitt's career.

"Look at this level, he's writing his own dinosaur books now," Olson said in excitement. "I'm like shaking my head like, wow. Good Job. I'm proud of him. He did a good job and at the point where he is at now, there's nothing stopping him."