The skeleton of the T-Rex ‘Stan’ panicked the counters Tuesday, during its auction organized by the house of Christie’s in New York. Its buyer had to pay $ 31.8 million to afford it.
The selling price of a dinosaur skeleton will never have taken such proportions. By being bought for $ 31.8 million (27 million euros), ‘Stan’ dethroned the previous record, which was held by another T-Rex, ‘Sue’. In 1997, at Sotheby’s, his skeleton was sold for 8.4 million dollars to Field Museum of Natural History from Chicago. An amount which therefore almost quadrupled on Tuesday.
Originally estimated by Christie’s at a price of 6 to 8 million dollars, the skeleton of ‘Stan’ will have reached 9 million dollars in less than two minutes. It finally took a little less than a quarter of an hour to see a collector put everyone in agreement by bidding at 27.5 million dollars. Sum plus fees and commissions.
The reasons for such success
If ‘Stan’ has raised the stakes, it’s because his skeleton is exceptional. Since the discovery of the first T-Rex in 1902, only about fifty of them have been lifted from the earth. And this one, with more than 70% of all its bones, including a very good skull, is among the most complete.
The fossil was unearthed in 1987 in the Hell Creek Formation, South Dakota. It was first an amateur paleontologist, Stan Sacrison (hence the name given to the T-Rex), who discovered a piece of the hip. At first, it was attributed to a triceratops. As it is a relatively common species in this region, excavations had not been continued.
Five years later, a team from Black Hills Institute of Geological Research went to the scene. Noticing that they were in fact dealing with a T-Rex skeleton, they restarted the search. In total, it took more than 30,000 hours of work to unearth and reconstruct his skeleton, made up of 188 bones.
Since then, the skeleton of ‘Stan’ had been used by dozens of museums to make casts. It was put up for sale following a dispute between the directors of the Black Hills Institute. However, they did not allow the purchaser to make a three-dimensional reproduction.
A juicy market
Even if they do not always reach such vertiginous sums, the skeletons of dinosaurs have been popular in the last few years in the auction rooms. More and more often, sales are flirting with the million dollar mark… or even exceeding it. Pieces that delight wealthy individuals.
‘What counts with dinosaur fossils is above all their impressive appearance – the dentition, the arch… We are in the field of very large decoration. Like a Jeff Koons in a living room, buyers are looking for this wow effect who will captivate the visitor ‘, explained an auctioneer from Maison Drouot to the World.
So that the sector does not ignite too much, the regulations are intended to be very strict. Prohibition on selling a specimen discovered on public land. ‘You should know that the legislation is very regulated. We don’t just do anything. Often these are objects that are classified as national treasures. It is necessary to have the papers of origin of the subject and to be sure that the specimen comes from a private domain, and not public, because otherwise one enters a process of obligatory restitution. It can be very expensive ‘, explained to the Figaro Eric Mickeler, specialist in paleontology at Sotheby’s.
Beware of scams
Who says juicy market, says potential scams. Skeletons composed mainly of original bones are rare. Many are ‘composites’: they are pieced together with several pieces of other dinosaurs.
‘That’s the big problem I’m having. The value is totally different from that of a complete specimen, with its original bones. In my career, I’ve only seen one. It was 99% complete. When you reach 70%, it’s already excellent ‘, detailed Eric Mickeler at Figaro.
Powerless museums and researchers
The attraction of wealthy collectors and companies is putting a strain on the wing of museums and public research centers which, financially, are struggling to keep pace. Visibly not feeling concerned by this problem, many collectors exhibit their acquisition at home.
As the technological means to study these fossils continue to advance, researchers have less and less to examine. ‘Every fossil sold to an individual is an irrecoverable loss to science,’ lamented Emily Rayfield, a researcher at the University of Bristol and president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, to the World.
The only solution for researchers: rely on skeletons entrusted by patrons. It remains to be seen whether the purchaser of ‘Stan’ will hand over his skeleton to science.
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