The often tearful, true-life adventures of a volunteer fossil flosser

Sometimes the enormity of it hits her. When Jean Primozich starts to mull the fact that she’s working on a 66 million-year-old dinosaur—the Tufts-Love Tyrannosaurus rex—she’s moved to tears.

“I was working on a nostril a while ago, and I started to cry,” says the Burke Museum volunteer. She was imagining the creature alive, moving, breathing Cretaceous air. “It saw a different world.”

A retiree from a research position in UW Medicine, Primozich started volunteering in specimen preparation at the Burke more than a decade ago. When fossil preparator Michael Holland was looking for someone to help him prepare the partial skeleton of the T. rex discovered by volunteers at a 2016 Montana summer field program, Primozich jumped at the chance. Some might find the painstaking work of dusting and dabbing sand away from a fossil tedious, but even after two years and thousands of hours, Primozich still marvels at it.

“Every day there’s something exciting,” she says. Minutes earlier she had uncovered a baby tooth in the massive jaw. “It’s amazing to just be the first person to see these things.”

Before the old Burke Museum was closed in December, more than 100,000 people came to see the T. rex being prepared. Many of them spied Primozich working on the dinosaur, and a lucky few were invited in to see the massive teeth up close. Now, the volunteer and the fossil are settled in the new museum building, which is scheduled to open to the public in October. They’re racing against time to have the fossil ready for display.

“I’m here every day. I’ve given up nearly everything else,” Primozich says with a grin. “I’m the biggest kid.”