Dinosaur Skeleton sells for $ 12.4 million at Christie’s

It may not be a Matisse or a Warhol, but this multi-million dollar sale at Christie’s comes from the hand of a different kind of artist: Mother Nature.

Late Thursday, Christie’s sold the skeleton of a Deinonychus antirrhopus – a species that has become one of the most recognizable dinosaurs in the world following the release of the movie “Jurassic Park” – for $ 12.4 million, with commission, to an unknown buyer. . The auction continues the trend of high-priced fossil sales, a pattern that has bothered some paleontologists, who fear the specimens could be lost to science if they are bought by private individuals rather than public institutions.

The auction house said the fossil, nicknamed Hector, was the first public sale of a Deinonychus, an agile bipedal dinosaur known for its menacing claws. at his feet. The sale price was more than double the auction house’s estimated high of $ 6 million.

The most likely species wouldn’t get as much attention were it not for “Jurassic Park”. In the 1993 novel and film, the beasts called velociraptors are actually more like a Deinonychus (the novel’s author, Michael Crichton, once admitted that “velociraptor” it just sounded more dramatic).

This skeleton specimen contains 126 real bones, but the rest is reconstructed, including most of the skull, the auction house said. Dating around 110 million years, early Cretaceous, the specimen was excavated from private land in Montana about a decade ago by self-taught paleontologists Jack and Roberta Owen, according to Jared Hudson, a commercial paleontologist who bought and prepared the sample. Later it was bought by the last owner, who remains anonymous.

“I had no idea it was going to end up at Christie’s,” said Jack Owen, 69, in an interview this week. He said he was trained in archeology and worked as a ranch manager and fencing contractor.

Owen had struck a deal with the landowner of the ranch where he worked, allowing him to dig for fossils and split the profits, he said. First he located some of the bone fragments in an area where he had already found two other animals. Using a scalpel and a toothbrush, among other tools, he and Roberta, his wife, carefully collected the sample, with a little help.

Seeing him go for millions of dollars is astounding, he said: the profit he received was nowhere near. But Owen said his fossil hunt wasn’t money-driven.

“It’s about hunting; it’s about the discovery, “he said.” You’re the only human in the world who has touched that animal, and that’s priceless. “

Fossils of the species were discovered by paleontologist John H. Ostrom in 1964, and he gave them the name Deinonychus, meaning terrible claw, after the strongly curved hunting claw he believed the dinosaur used to cut his prey. Ostrom’s discovery was central to how scientists today understand some dinosaurs: less like lizards and more like birds; fast and possibly warm-blooded and even feathered.

This scientific development is one of the reasons why academic paleontologists might be interested in studying specimens like Hector.

Some paleontologists have long argued against the practice of auctioning these fossils because they fear that the specimens could end up being sold for prices beyond the reach of museums.

The issue gained importance with the sale of Suethe T. rex skeleton, at the Field Museum for $ 8.36 million – nearly $ 15 million in today’s dollars – in 1997. And received a new examination more recently, after a T. rex skeleton dubbed Stan earned a record $ 31.8 millionnearly quadrupling its estimated high of $ 8 million.

Before Christie’s auctioned Stan in 2020, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology he urged him consider limiting the sale to “bidders of institutions committed to curating specimens for the public good and in perpetuity, or those bidding on behalf of such institutions.”

“As an organization, we decided that we believed the vertebrate fossils belonged to museums,” Jessica M. Theodor, president of the company, said in an interview. “If it is in private hands, that person dies, their property sells the specimen and the information is lost.”

Many commercial paleontologists – such as Hudson, who bought Hector from the Owens – argue that their work is also critical to science and that they need to be paid for their work so they can continue to do so.

“If people like us weren’t on the ground,” Hudson said, “dinosaurs would erode and be completely excluded from science.”