Auction items 

“They are thieves of time”: paleontologists denounce the booming market for dinosaur skeletons

“Greedy” is a way of describing the dinosaur bone market in recent years, as art collectors, celebrities and others have joined in the increasingly expensive hunt for prehistoric artifacts. But not everyone believes that these objects should be sold.

Next Sotheby’s sale of 77 million year old Gorgosaurus skeleton for $6.1 million last month, some pundits have begun to decry the trend, saying it is doing science a huge disservice.

“Dinosaurs become a commodity traded on the world market, a luxury item accessible only to the wealthiest people, little different from fine art or classic cars or old whiskey bottles,” said Steve Brusatte, an American paleontologist. who works for the University of Edinburgh. , say it Daily mail.

“They’re little more than playthings for the rich,” he continued. “If an oligarch buys a dinosaur skeleton and places it in the lobby of one of his mansions, then it is effectively lost to science. Gone, a ghost.

The Gorgosaurus skeleton sold at Sotheby’s New York was the first of its kind to be auctioned and only one of 20 ever discovered. With so few examples in existence, the impact of a loss in private hands is not overstated, especially when it comes to collecting data. Scientists need many specimens to make informed decisions about the specific traits that distinguish species from each other.

Another paleontologist, Thomas Carr of Carthage College in Wisconsin, compared dinosaur auctions to “the last copy of a book thrown into the fire”.

He added: ‘When the skeleton was purchased by a private collector, it no longer exists for scientists.

A close-up of a Gorgosaurus skeleton is displayed during a press preview at Sotheby’s on July 05, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

Carr and Brusatte both advocate that exhumed dinosaur remains be turned over to museums and other educational institutions accessible to the scientific community. But Sotheby’s senior vice president Cassandra Hatton said just because a prehistoric relic ends up in private hands doesn’t mean it’s lost forever to researchers.

“These specimens have survived for millions of years and will be around for millions more; although there is a chance that they will not be available for study immediately after the sale, they will surely be at some point in the future,” she said in a statement to Artnet News.

Hatton further suggested that not only is there “no evidence of [auctions] being a problem for scientists”, in fact “private collectors and research institutions can benefit from each other in ways essential to the long-term preservation of fossil specimens and to public awareness and education. on dinosaurs.

“Private collectors,” she explained, “play a vital role in distributing objects to museum collections, often donating or loaning objects for permanent or long-term viewing and research. Our experience so far It has now been that most collectors lend or donate newer specimens that warrant further scholarly study to institutions.

“Most collectors are passionate about the study and preservation of fossils, and the enjoyment of sharing these incredible objects with others is common within the collecting community,” Hatton added.

Christie's sold a nearly complete skeleton of a T-Rex named Stan during its evening sale in November 2020 for $28 million ($31.8 million after fees).  Image courtesy of Christie's.

Christie’s sold a nearly complete skeleton of a T-Rex named Stan during its evening sale in November 2020 for $28 million ($31.8 million after fees). Image courtesy of Christie’s.

Of course, Sotheby’s isn’t the only auction house selling dinosaur bones. In May, Christie’s sold a velociraptor skeleton for $12.4 million, while last fall the company auctioned off a T. rex skeleton for a record $31.8 million. The Drouot auction house in Paris sold a Triceratops for $7.4 million in October 2021 and an Allosaurus for $1.9 million in April 2018.

“Greed for money is what drives these auctions to sell dinosaur bones,” Carr told the Daily mail. “Auction [houses] are an essential link in the chain, but each link is equally hellish. This chain includes trading companies that collect [the fossils] sell, then auctions and people with the money to buy the dinosaurs.

“As scientists, we are powerless against this trinity,” said the paleontologist. “They are time thieves.”

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