By Tom Gliatto
February 24, 1997 12:00 PM

PBS (Tues., Feb. 25, 8 p.m. ET)


North America is the richest dinosaur burial ground in the world, and grave diggers are everywhere. There are paleontologists, equipped with chisels, brushes and research grants, who regard their painstaking work as science. And then there are the commercial fossil hunters. These usually work more rapidly, sell their prehistoric wares on the market and, the paleontologists argue, are not as concerned with the big evolutionary picture.

The boneyard battles of one prospector, Peter Larson of Hill City, S.Dak., are the focus of this intriguing hourlong Nova. In 1990 the Black Hills Institute, the geological exploring company of which Larson is co-owner, discovered a near-complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in the central region of the state. Nicknamed Sue, it is, to date, the finest T-rex specimen ever found. But Sue had died on what is now the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. The tribe sued for possession. Then the Federal government, concerned about poaching violations on protected land, confiscated the bones and stunned Larson and his colleagues with a 39-count indictment. Little people, big government, colossal reptiles. That’s a dramatis personae I never expected.