December 2, 2022

Christie’s withdraws T. rex skeleton from Hong Kong auction days before sale

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Christie’s has withdrawn a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton from sale, just days before the historic auction, after a paleontologist said the fossil contained large copies of bones copied from another specimen.

In a statement provided to CNN on Monday, the British auction house said the anonymous seller will loan the skeleton, nicknamed Shane, to a museum.

Considered as the highlight of Christie’s visit. Hong Kong The sale, Shane, was set to become the first T. rex skeleton to be auctioned in Asia. It was set to fetch between $15 million and $25 million, according to the auction house’s estimate.
It is common practice for dinosaur skeletons to be partially reconstructed using casts of specimens other than the original bones to make them appear complete. But paleontologist Peter Larsen, president of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in South Dakota, believes that Shane was made primarily from a replica of a T. rex known as Stan – a structure that his organization Pass has intellectual property rights after sale by Christie’s. a record $31.8 million In 2020

“I’d say probably 95% or more is actually Stan,” Larsen, who has studied photos and scans of the skeleton, said in a phone interview. “They (Shane’s owner) don’t have whole bones, so this is Stan with some small pieces of bone.”

Visitors look at the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex named Shane at the Victoria Theater and Concert Hall in Singapore on October 28, 2022.

Visitors look at the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex named Shane at the Victoria Theater and Concert Hall in Singapore on October 28, 2022. Credit: Then Chih Wey/Xinhua/Getty Images

Shane’s skeleton is “museum quality,” according to a Christie’s press release issued in September. In a since-removed page on its website, the auction house said the specimen, which is 43 feet long and 16 feet tall, is 54 percent complete “based on bone density.”

While Christie’s declined to provide details of Larson’s claims or the reasons for canceling the sale, a spokesperson told CNN via email: “There is no T. rex skeleton that is entirely made up of original bones. Believe that the original elements of Shane are authentic.”

The spokesperson added that Christie’s “researches all the items we offer for sale to the highest standard in the auction business,” and that “the fossil category and our standards of research and presentation for sale is committed to.”

The Black Hills Institute, which sold a complete polyurethane cast of Stein for $120,000, was concerned that the auction house’s catalog listing was misleading potential bidders. Larson said buyers who were unaware that Shane featured a Stan-based cast would thus be “at risk” of intellectual property disputes with the organization.

Luke Santangelo, an attorney representing the Black Hills Institute, told CNN that he contacted Christie’s in late September and that the auction house accepts his concerns. Christie’s later responded with proposed revisions to its condition report, he added. Oh Later versions Christie’s press release acknowledged that the sheen contained “stain elements” purchased from the Black Hills Institute.

Both Santangelo and Larson told CNN that the changes did not go far enough to address their concerns, but added that Christie’s did the right thing by withdrawing the skeleton from auction.

“I don’t necessarily blame Christie’s for that,” Larson said. “They pulled it from the auction, which is what they should have done.”

Larson said he is in contact with Shane’s current owner to “make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

“We have nothing against people selling T-Rex specimens, we have nothing against auctions, but we want people to be truthful and fair,” he added.

To sell or to study?

Since the first dinosaur auction 25 years ago, the sale of large fossils has sparked controversy, with experts concerned that housing specimens in private collections may make them unavailable for scientific study. Paleontologists have also argued that potential commercial benefits discourage landowners from allowing professional researchers access to fossil sites.

“In my own opinion, there are only downsides,” P. David Polley, professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Environment at Indiana University Bloomington, told CNN. Earlier this yearWhen Sotheby’s sold the skeleton of a T-rex relative, Gorgosaurus, for just $6 million. “While there certainly isn’t a law in the US that supports this for fossils from private land, it’s easy for me as a scientist to argue that that fossil is important to all of us, and it really is. It should go into the public repository. Where it can be studied – where the public at large can learn from it and enjoy it.”
A close-up of Shane, a Tyrannosaurus rex, during an exhibition at the Victoria Theater and Concert Hall in Singapore on October 28, 2022.

A close-up of Shane, a Tyrannosaurus rex, during an exhibition at the Victoria Theater and Concert Hall in Singapore on October 28, 2022. Credit: Then Chih Wey/Xinhua/Getty Images

When Shane went on display in Singapore last month, Christie’s president for Asia Pacific, Francis Bellin, rejected the suggestion that auctioning off the skeleton would reduce the opportunity for further scientific study.

“Shane himself has been completely digitized,” he told CNN at a press conference. “Each bone has been digitized in 3D and it will be the decision of the new owner whether this data is made public or not.”

Bailen added that fossils sold at auction are often available to the public, citing Stein’s sale. On the scene At Abu Dhabi’s new Natural History Museum when it Opens in 2025..

Michael Pittman, a biologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, previously told CNN that the sheen would not have much scientific value.

“In Shane’s case, the sale of the specimen will not be particularly memorable to professionals,” Pittman said by email, before Christie’s decision to pull the skeleton from sale, adding that it ” Not a game-changing fossil.”

“The broader and more important issue is about the fossils on sale. are The current system of high scientific value requires professionals to meet at least the asking price of high scientific value samples, which is usually unaffordable to them.

“If there is a global mechanism to ensure that the most scientifically valuable fossils are always in public ownership… that could solve this problem,” he said of UNESCO as a possible solution. added referring to the involvement of “Until then, game-changing fossils will continue to be missed by science.”

Other T. rex skeletons remain available at auction, with one of the most complete T. rex skulls expected to be found. Up to $20 million When it goes under the hammer at Sotheby’s in New York next month. Like Shane, this skull was discovered in the widely studied Hell Creek Formation, which, according to Sotheby’s, has yielded more T. rex remains than any other site in the world.

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