Science: First ever Dinosaur Bones up for Auction

Fancy the chance to own a 17-metre dinosaur skeleton? You’re in luck – a British auction house has one up for sale next month, and it could be yours… for the price of a large family home.

Summers Place auctions in Billingshurst, West Sussex, will auction the 150m year-old Diplodocus longus skeleton on November 29th, alongside other paleontological wonders including a fossilised Icthyosaurus and a collection of Dodo bones. The dinosaur is expected to sell for around £500,000.

The dinosaur skeleton was discovered in Wyoming in 2009 by the 11 and 14-year old sons of paleontologist Raimund Albersdoerfer, who had been excavating at Dana Quarry, a well-known source of fossils. Having sent his sons off to an area thought to be of no significant interest, the dinosaur hunter was amazed when they came back having found ‘an enormous bone’.

Excavating the whole skeleton took nine weeks. Upon finding that it was a female dinosaur, the team christened her ‘Misty’, after the mysterious nature of the quarry. According to the curator of the auction, Errol Fuller, the skeleton was found on private land, meaning that it is legal to transport and sell.

But there is some debate over the rights and wrongs of trading in such rare fossils. Misty is one of only a few Diplodocus longus skeletons in existence, and appears to be one of the best examples – even the Natural History Museum’s famous skeleton uses bones from two skeletons and large amounts of plaster cast.

A dinosaur sale earlier this year in New York prompted disappointed remarks from scientists, bemoaning the inability of museums to compete with the budgets of private collectors. Speaking to the New York Times, Thomas Carr, senior scientific adviser at the Dinosaur Discovery Museum and director of the Carthage Institute of Paleontology in Wisconsin, commented that “This lines their pockets but hurts science.”

Elsewhere, the origins of fossils can provoke conflict. In 2012, a legal battle broke out between Mongolia and a Texas auction house over the sale of a near-perfect example of a Tarbosaurus skeleton – similar to a T. Rex. Despite the legal challenge, the sale went ahead, reaching $1,052,500 to a private buyer in New York.

One thing’s for sure – whoever ends up with the winning bid on Misty has a challenge on their hands. Not only is she 17 metres long and nearly 4 metres tall, but she is described as having ‘a colossal weight’ by Fuller. A steel-frame armature has been constructed to hold the bones in place, and the whole skeleton can be taken apart and bolted together again. Handling the bones is a difficult job, despite them being in a good condition – although Fuller claims that ‘there’s no piece too heavy that two people couldn’t lift it’.

The reserve estimate stands at between £400,000 and £600,000. That might sound like a lot, but the buyer will be in extremely rare company. Fuller compares the sale to the recent record-breaking £18m auction of a rare Ferrari: ‘If I was a rich man, I could have a fossil dinosaur…that would impress my friends more than a Ferrari and it would cost just a fraction of the £18m.’

Hmmmm I can think of a million things to do that won’t be worth £15m.

Its Parker baby
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