"This is a disaster."
The only Gorgosaurus skeleton — yes, that's a real type of dinosaur — that's ever been made available for private ownership just sold at auction for more than $6 million yesterday, and scientists are pissed.
Earlier this month the auction house said online that whoever bought the 77-million-year-old fossil would get to name it, but the new owner is currently unknown. What's certain, however, is that only about 12 Gorgosaurus skulls and a handful of partial skeletons have ever been found.
The Gorgosaurus is a smaller, faster relative of the iconic Tyrannosaurus rex. It was a great hunter, despite having the same characteristically small front limbs. And if the anonymous new owner withholds research and data about the Gorgosaurus after the purchase, paleontologists say, it would be a real waste.
"I’m totally disgusted, distressed and disappointed because of the far-reaching damage the loss of these specimens will have for science," Thomas Carr, a vertebrate paleontologist at Carthage College who studies tyrannosauroids, told the NY Times yesterday. "This is a disaster."
This isn't the first time the paleontological community was in an uproar over a super-expensive, auctioned-off dino skeleton.
Back in 1997, SUE the T-rex was auctioned off for $8.36 million to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. It was the largest sum of money anybody had ever paid for a fossil at the time, and some thought it would ruin the industry forever. SUE is now a veritable Twitter celebrity, whose official account uses they/them pronouns because their gender is unknown.
In 2020, a buyer gave nearly $32 million for a T-rex named Stan, making that sale the most expensive fossil and T-rex skeleton to ever be sold. In March this year, news broke that Stan would be the centerpiece of a new natural history museum in Abu Dhabi — meaning his legacy belongs to the public and the thousands of viewers who will ultimately visit him. Both SUE and Stan were excavated in South Dakota in part by Pete Larsen, a private paleontologist who founded the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research.
The Gorgosaurus that was just auctioned off was found in Montana, about 45 miles from the Canadian border. If the fossil had been in Canada, it would've been on public property — which many scientists would have preferred, it seems.
If that had been the case, it's likely the US' culture of dogfighting over dino fossils wouldn't have led us to where we are now.
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