An old advert for eBay once said: "Whatever it is, you can get it on eBay.” It sounds like an ambitious claim, but one that has often proven accurate, whether you're looking for air from a Kanye West concert or a Dorito shaped like the Pope’s hat. It turns out, the slogan is even true for ultra-rare relics from the Cretaceous Period.
A juvenile Tyrannosaurs rex fossil, potentially a one-of-a-kind specimen, has recently gone up for sale on eBay with a price tag of $2.95 million. The incredibly rare specimen was listed back in February 2019, but remains up for sale as no one yet has put in an offer.
“Most Likely the Only BABY T-Rex in the World! It has a 15 FOOT long Body and a 21" SKULL with Serrated Teeth! This Rex was a very dangerous meat eater,” the listing shouts reads. “It's a RARE opportunity indeed to ever see a baby REX, if they did not grow quickly they could not catch prey and would die.”
"Seller does not accept returns," it candidly notes.
The 68-million-year-old fossilized remains of several teeth and a lower jaw were first discovered on private land in Montana by Alan Detrich, a professional fossil hunter, in 2013. After initially loaning the fossil to the Kansas University Natural History Museum, where it was publically exhibited, Detrich retrieved the fossil and placed it for sale on eBay.
As you might imagine, paleontologists are not happy about this, claiming if the fossil disappears into private ownership it will be lost to science. In the words of Indiana Jones: “This belongs in a museum!”
This particular specimen is especially important because it plays a central role in the ongoing debate about infant T-Rex. Many believe that previous specimens of juvenile T. rex are actually a genus of pygmy tyrannosaur, known as Nanotyrannus. Then again, others have argued that all specimens labeled as Nanotyrannus are, in fact, just juvenile T. rex. It's thought this specimen is a young T-Rex that died around 4 years old. If the specimen becomes locked away in a private collection behind closed doors, it will be a lot harder to get answers about the true nature of the beast.
“Only casts and other replicas of vertebrate fossils should be traded, not the fossils themselves. Scientifically important fossils like the juvenile tyrannosaur are clues to our collective natural heritage and deserve to be held in public trust,” the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology implored in an open letter about the sale.
“That fossils like this are evidence of Earth’s deep past is what makes them valuable, unlike art objects or other items of trade whose value comes from human creativity and artistry. Because vertebrate fossils are rare, most of them contribute uniquely to our knowledge of the history of life.”
"Each one that is lost from the public trust, is part of that already fragmentary history that we will never collectively recover."