More Criticism: A 10-Foot Gorgosaurus Skeleton Just Sold for $6.1 Million—and It's Disgruntling Scientists - The Scene

The private sale of fossils has been protested against for years, as it takes education away from science and the public.

Sotheby’s July 28 Natural History auction offered a series of dinosaur fossils, including a whole Gorgosaurus. The species, a relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex, fetched $6.1 million. The dinosaur was alive approximately 76 million years ago and was excavated in 2018 on private land in Choteau County, Montana. 

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The nearly 30-foot Gorgosaurus skeleton weighed around three tons when it roamed the earth 76 million years ago. / Image from the Sotheby’s website.

According to the auction house, this specific Gorgosaurus (whose name means “dreadful lizard”) had a body of nearly 10 feet and weighed around three tons. The dinosaur had dozens of long, slim, double-edged serrated teeth for piercing, cutting, and hunting prey.

There are only 20 known specimens of Gorgosaurus, while there are more than 50 of Tyrannosaurus rex. Most of the former’s fossils are found in Canada. Due to the country’s export restrictions, Gorgosaurus fossils are not legally available for private ownership. Given this lot was found in the US, it’s the only known example ever offered for individual ownership. 

A previous win

However, this is infuriating to scientists. In 2018, when the world’s most “complete” T-rex fossil was found, it was auctioned for $31.8 million by Christie’s. Scientists highly criticized the sale, and the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) urged the auction house to reconsider the deal.   

In a letter, SVP’s president Emily J. Rayfield and vice president Jessica M. Theodor told Christie’s that the sale “should be restricted to bidders from institutions committed to curating specimens for the public good in perpetuity, or those bidding on behalf of such institutions.” 

The dinosaur had dozens of long, slim, double-edged serrated teeth for piercing, cutting, and hunting prey.

Two years later, the T-rex skeleton named Stan was moved to Abu Dhabi’s Museum Of Natural History despite the sale pushing through. It was considered a “win” for the science community and the public, as it would contribute to research and education. 

Disappointed community 

Now, the sale of the Gorgosaurus is getting the same backlash. Paleontologists acknowledge that selling the fossil for profit appears legal, given the fossil was discovered on private land (as per US laws). But if it were found in the Canadian province of Alberta, it would have belonged to the public. 

The fossil was found in a private property in Montana. Because of this, according to US laws, it’s allowed to be sold for profit.

“I’m totally disgusted, distressed, and disappointed because of the far-reaching damage the loss of these specimens will have for science,” said Dr. Carr, who studies tyrannosauroids, T. Rex, and Gorgosaurus, told The New York Times. “This is a disaster.”

Other sold lots from Sotheby’s Natural History sale include a rooted T-Rex tooth (sold for $100,800), Allosaurus leg bones (sold for $163,00), and a Triceratops skull (sold for $661,500). 

Images from the Sotheby’s website.

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