Meet Hector. He’s very old, very controversial and very in demand. Even if he was a bit cranky during his life, he helped inspire a bestselling book and hit movie. Hector is a fossil whose sale could fetch between $4 million and $6 million at auction. Just don’t call him a velociraptor.
Christie’s is auctioning off a specimen it’s nicknamed “Hector,” an example of the dinosaurs that inspired the terrifying, bi-pedal raptors in Jurassic Park. The nearly complete Deinonychus antirrhopus fossil is a much-touted example of an animal that roamed the earth during the Early Cretaceous period 115 to 108 million years ago.
Hector is on view now at Christie’s New York and will be the last item auctioned on the evening of May 12.
Paleontologists have so far found very few Deinonychus fossils—and Hector is the most complete skeleton of the dinosaur ever discovered, the auction house says in a statement. Hector includes approximately 126 real fossil bones, plus some that were reconstructed using 3-D printing or casting. The skull, for example, has been mostly reconstructed—common for specimens of this size and type, Julia Jacobs reports for the New York Times.
American paleontologist John H. Ostrom first discovered the species in 1964, naming it Deinonychus, or “terrible claw,” because of the sharp hind claw on each of its feet. Researchers believe the dinosaur held its prey with its arms, then kicked it with one leg, using its hind claw to impale and kill it. The extinct animals fed primarily on vertebrates and plant-eating dinosaurs such as Tenontosaurus; they moved on two legs and likely hunted as individuals.
This particular specimen, which stands about 4 feet tall and stretches 10 feet from nose to tail, hails from Montana, where commercial paleontologist Jared Hudson excavated it from private land in Wolf Creek Canyon from 2012 to 2014, according to the Times. It’s been held by a private party ever since, though it did make an appearance at the Natural History Museum of Denmark’s King of Dinosaurs exhibition in 2020.
Though Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton was inspired by the extinct animal—and its deadly, agile hunting style—he took some creative liberties in his 1990 book, which Steven Spielberg made into a hit movie in 1993.
Crichton decided to call his fictional version of Deinonychus “velociraptor” because that name was more dramatic, per a 1997 New York Times interview with Ostrom. “Velociraptor” is actually the name of a different dinosaur altogether, one that lived during the Late Cretaceous period in what is now Mongolia. Despite the misnomer, Crichton’s popular books—and the subsequent movies—have made the misnamed dinosaur one of the most well-known behind Tyrannosaurus rex.
Auctioning off dinosaur skeletons is controversial, with paleontologists split about the possible benefits and drawbacks. Some dislike the practice because it makes it possible for wealthy private collectors to buy dinosaur skeletons and hide them away from the public. On the other hand, proponents say, the high price tags that the specimens command might encourage more people to go into the field of paleontology or open up their private land to researchers, despite the risk of spurring more illegal digging.
When “Stan” the T. rex sold for a whopping $31.8 million at Christie’s in October 2020—smashing the pre-auction estimate of $8 million—paleontologists were outraged.
“This is terrible for science and is a great boost and incentive for commercial outfits to exploit the dinosaur fossils of the American West,” Thomas Carr, a paleontologist at Carthage College, told National Geographic’s Michael Greshko after the auction.
Stan’s buyer remained anonymous until earlier this year, when news broke that Stan will be part of a new natural history museum in the United Arab Emirates. Still, he likely won’t be the last auctioned dinosaur to cause consternation within the scientific community. As for Hector, it remains to be seen how much his fearsome Hollywood reputation precedes him—and how much it will drive up his selling price.
“The fact that dinosaurs are more than just objects of scientific curiosity helps drive these high-profile sales,” Riley Black wrote for Smithsonian magazine soon after the Stan sale in October 2020. “For some, a dinosaur is a statement of wealth, power, and influence.”