Fossil Gorgosaurus could be sold for $8 million and scientists are unhappy

(ORDO NEWS) — A complete fossilized skeleton of a 76-million-year-old Gorgosaurus dinosaur will go up for auction on July 28, auction house Sotheby’s announced Tuesday.

Almost 10 feet (3 meters) tall and 22 feet (7 meters) long, this well-preserved specimen is a smaller cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex. It was discovered in the Judith River Formation near Hawr, Montana in 2018. According to the pre-sale estimate of the auction house, it will be sold for 5-8 million US dollars.

Experts say it’s hard to say whether multi-million dollar dinosaur skeleton auctions have become more common, but there have been a number of high-profile sales over the past few years.

In 2020, a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton named “Stan” sold for a record $31.8 million. Even celebrities such as Nicolas Cage and Leonardo DiCaprio participated in dinosaur fossil auctions.

But for paleontologists, this high-profile auction is part of a worrying trend whereby rare fossils could actually be lost to science.

Experts in the field say the fossils being snapped up by private collectors could prevent the public from seeing and studying them.

“This auction is disgusting,” said Thomas Carr, a paleontologist at Carthage College.

Carr added that the fossil is one of the few Gorgosaurus skeletons found in the US, as most of the remains were found in Canada.

“In my career, I’ve worked and sold many exceptional and unique items, but few are as amazing and astonishing as this incredible Gorgosaurus skeleton,” said Cassandra Hutton, head of science and popular culture at Sotheby’s, in an interview. The Associated Press. Sotheby’s did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

High-profile auctions such as the upcoming sale of Gorgosaurus fuel the notion that dinosaur fossils are of monetary value, not scientific value, Carr added.

“The value of dinosaur fossils lies in the information they contain in their bones. Sample size is everything in science, and selling one skeleton at auction to a private buyer is tantamount to losing a mountain of data for the scientist,” he said.

If the fossil is privately owned, paleontologists like Carr fear that the owners may deny public access to the specimen or resell it, making it difficult to conduct long-term analyzes, verify previous research, and raise new scientific questions.

According to Victoria Arbor, curator of paleontology at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Canada, countries like Canada, Mongolia, Brazil and China have laws that protect important fossils wherever they are found.

But in the United States, a permit to collect dinosaur bones is only required if dinosaur bones are found on federal land. It’s rare in other countries for fossils to be sold legally at auction, Arbor told Insider.

Dinosaur experts say they are concerned that selling fossils to the highest bidder is driving up prices. Most museums work directly with commercial dealers and pay lower prices, Arbor said.

Auction prices are “usually well above what any museum can afford,” Arbor said, adding: “It doesn’t cost $5 million to collect Gorgosaurus. It doesn’t cost zero dollars, but the profits from selling these specimens at auction are very high.”

Another problem is that expensive fossil auctions may encourage people to steal bones instead of leaving them to paleontologists to study.

In May, National Park Service officials reported that rare reptile footprint fossils dating back at least 200 million years were stolen from Utah’s Capitol Reef National Park between August 2017 and August 2018. P. David Polley, a paleontologist at Indiana University, pointed to his own collection of fossils being used for research.

“The more commercial value that is placed on a fossil, the more likely it is that someone will want to break in and steal something,” Polly told Insider.

Not all fossils put up for auction become unavailable after being sold. One of the first known fossils to be auctioned was a dinosaur named “Sue”, the most complete T. rex ever found, which was sold to the Field Museum in Chicago in 1997 for over $8.3 million.

If an individual buys a fossil, the public and researchers have no right to know where it is, Arbur said. “We don’t always know where these fossils will end up, and that’s the way it is,” Arbor told Insider.

“It’s really unfortunate, because then these really interesting samples can simply disappear from scientific access.”

When Stan was sold to an anonymous buyer in 2020, the dinosaur skeleton disappeared from public view. It resurfaced almost two years later, when National Geographic first reported that it was heading to a future natural history museum in Abu Dhabi.

The identity of the anonymous buyer remains unknown, although the fact that the fossil ends up in a museum potentially alleviates fears that it will become inaccessible to scientists.

Although some fossils bought at auction are donated to museums and research institutes, paleontologists such as Polly emphasize that there is no guarantee of such an outcome.

“Even the best-intentioned collector, for example after death, has very little control over what happens to the fossil afterwards,” Polley said, adding: “The long-term availability of a fossil is always in question once it falls into private hands.”


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