Raptorex, a controversial cousin of Tyrannosaurus, has baffled the scientific community over the last decade. The skeleton is fantastically preserved, and relatively complete - but because it surfaced on the fossil black market and not on a fact-finding expedition, its discoverers did not leave record of the site where it was discovered or the surrounding environment. These "fossil poachers" provided the world with a beautiful skeleton, but without its context much about the creature remains a mystery. Where did it live? When did it live? What sorts of creatures surrounded it? Was it a young juvenile of a larger tyrannosaur species, or close to adulthood? The rock surrounding a fossil can be at times even more valuable in answering these questions than the fossil itself.
Raptorex surfaced at a gem and mineral show in Arizona, and caught the eye of scientists from Western Paleontological Laboratories. Though only limited information was available about its origins, WPL recognized its importance and made a valiant effort and saved the specimen from scientific obscurity. The company then sold it to the University of Chicago for further study.
Though scientists originally thought Raptorex to hail from China, sleuthing by paleontologist Peter Larson later showed that the animal most likely came from neighboring Mongolia, where the much larger tyrannosaur Tarbosaurus roamed. So, was Raptorex the lost toddler of a known Mongolian tyrant? Or is it something new? Time and further research will hopefully reveal the answers.
In the mean time - Raptorex serves as an excellent example of why it is so important for fossil collectors - amateur, professional, private or institutional - to keep careful records of the context of their finds. Proper collection records can make the difference between knowing a creature's life story, or losing it to the sands of time.