T-Rex Goes Up for Auction, Scientists Push Back

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Shen the T-Rex is going up for auction in China, and scientists are pushing back against the potential sale occurring in November. The sale is estimated between $15 million and $25 million. This is also the first time a T-Rex skeleton will be sold in Asia. Shen will be auctioned in Hong Kong at the Convention and Exhibition Center. Before that, the specimen will be viewed at the Victoria Theater & Concert Hall in Singapore.

Shen is 43ft long, 16ft high, and 7ft wide. Additionally, it weighs around 3,000 pounds. The specimen is 54 percent complete and was found in Hell Creek Formation in Montana. Hell Creek Formation is an area of mostly Upper Cretaceous rocks. It stretches over four states: Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wyoming. Additionally, the Hell Creek Fossil Area was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1966.

James Hyslop, Head of Science & Natural History at Christie’s Hong Kong auction house, said of Shen, “From its surging, bloodthirsty stance, to its remarkable preservation, this is one of the most scientifically studied T. rex skeletons to come to auction. After the unforgettable, record-breaking sale of STAN at Christie’s New York in 2020, it is a thrill and an immense privilege for us to be trusted with the sale of another wonderous T. rex skeleton.”

Stan was also a T-Rex sold at auction in 2020 for $31.8 million. The fossilized skeleton is mostly complete, found by amateur paleontologist Stan Sacrison in 1992. The specimen was long kept at the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City, South Dakota. But, with an anonymous bid at auction, Stan went for the highest price ever paid for a fossil on record.

T. Rex Fossil Going Up for Auction in November, Experts Fear This Will Affect Scientific Study

The issue with putting huge dinosaur fossils up for auction is that scientists are worried about making them commodities. Once the bones are sold to the highest bidder, science loses access to the secrets and knowledge held there.

“The problem with treating fossil specimens like trophies or collectibles is that their real significance comes from the information in the bones (from the obvious anatomical features to microscopic structures to even the isotopic composition of the molecules in the bone crystals), not from the object itself,” principal lecturer in Vertebrate Paleontology at the University of Maryland Thomas R. Holtz told Newsweek.

He continued, “Fossils which are in museum collections are in principle accessible to researchers now and into the future for analysis and study, including types of analyses and studies that we can’t even imagine yet. Specimens which are privately owned are not so accessible, and even if they are now they might not be in the future.”

In paleontology, not only are the bones important, but also the position the bones were found in. For paleontologists, unearthing fossils is a slow and painstaking process, said Holtz. “Some commercial collectors just want to dig up fossils as trophies,” he said, “so they don’t bother to gather these data (and may even lack the professional expertise to know what data to collect).”