An almost-complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossil named Stan has just sold at auction for a staggering $31.8 million to an anonymous buyer, smashing the previous record of $8.36 million and making it the most expensive fossil ever sold at auction.
Stan the T.rex likely lived around 65 million years ago and was a hefty monster at 11.7 meters long (38 feet), 3.64 meters tall (12 feet), and weighing around 7.2 tonnes. Whilst Stan is only the fifth most-complete T. rex specimen that exists to date, his skull is almost perfectly preserved, making the specimen widely sought after for study and exhibition.
Found in the Hell Creek Formation near Buffalo, South Dakota, the specimen is around 70 percent complete and officially called BHI 3033 but was nicknamed Stan in honor of the paleontologist, Stan Sacrison, that found him in 1987. Puncture wounds across the T. rex's skull and ribcage suggest he was in a hard-fought battle with another T. rex, and two fused vertebrae at the base of the skull point to a broken neck that later healed.
The buyer remains anonymous, so Stan will likely not join other specimens for museum display. Due to this, the fossil’s sale has caused dismay among some paleontologists that believe important archaeological specimens should remain in the care of institutions committed to their maintenance. This was laid out in a letter from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology to the auction house before the sale of Stan, but ultimately the sale proceeded.
“Fossil specimens that are sold into private hands are potentially lost to science,” explains Dr Rayfield, Dr Theodor, and Dr Polly in the letter. “Even if made accessible to scientists, information contained within privately owned specimens and future access cannot be guaranteed, and therefore verification of scientific claims (the essence of scientific progress) cannot be performed.”
Despite their pleas, fossils are becoming a commodity and drawing extremely high prices from buyers across the globe. Nicholas Cage purchased a stolen Tyrannosaurus skull for $276,000 before being forced to return it to the Mongolian government, while some paleontologists have suggested to the New York Times that Stan’s extraordinary final bid may have been made by a wealthy Middle Eastern buyer, although this is speculation for now.
With big-ticket fossils becoming increasingly desired by the world’s wealthiest, museums no longer have the funding to remain competitive in the bidding war surrounding their sale.
“It’s an astounding amount of money,” Darla Zelenitsky, an associate professor of dinosaur paleobiology at the University of Calgary, stated to the New York Times. “I think it would make it tough for museums to buy fossils, especially at a price peg like that.”
[H/T: New York Times]