Scientists Bristle at Auction of a Rare Stegosaurus

Critic argues 'the uber-wealthy will always be able to outbid museums'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 31, 2024 11:51 AM CDT
Scientists Bristle at Auction of a Rare Stegosaurus
The 70% complete stegosaurus skeleton, dubbed Apex.   (Sotheby's )

The rich will battle next month to claim the first stegosaurus skeleton ever to be auctioned, per the BBC. Paleontologists, meanwhile, will be cringing. As paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Steve Brusatte tells the outlet, stegosaurus fossils are quite rare and this one is 70% complete. That's "incredible for a dinosaur, especially a stegosaurus," says Jason Cooper, a professional fossil hunter who discovered the skeleton on his property in Colorado's Moffat County, part of the Morrison Formation known to give up other impressive fossils. While experts claim auction sales like this one result in important specimens being concealed from the public and scientists, Cooper says the skeleton, dubbed "Apex," will probably end up in a museum eventually.

That's far from guaranteed. "Dinosaur fossils have become desirable trophies, coveted by successful tech entrepreneurs and Hollywood stars," the BBC reports. Sotheby's expects the skeleton to fetch between $4 million and $6 million at a July 17 auction in New York City, "making it one of the most valuable dinosaur fossils ever offered." Its value is partly attributed to the public fascination with the stegosaurus and its "unmistakable silhouette." The fossil's spiky tail was among the first features to stand out to Cooper after he spotted bones on his property in May 2022. After a lengthy excavation, he was left with a skeleton measuring 27 feet long and 11.5 feet tall, Sotheby's said, noting it's among the largest and most well-preserved skeletons ever discovered—30% bigger than a similar specimen kept at London's Natural History Museum.

"It is a great shame when a fossil like this ... just disappears into the mansion of an oligarch," Brusatte says, per CNN, noting "the uber-wealthy will always be able to outbid museums when a dinosaur is sold on the open market." But Cooper argues the public will benefit in the long run. "The collectors and philanthropists who purchase these dinosaurs might enjoy them at home for a few years, but then they have the fossils named after them and give them to institutions," he tells the BBC. Sotheby's adds the buyer will receive a license to use data from a 3D scan of the skeleton so as to "promote collaboration in future research and education." (The most expensive fossil ever sold is destined for a museum, to paleontologists' relief.)

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