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You Can Buy This T. Rex Skeleton—for a Hefty Price

Paleontology enthusiasts with an extra $8 million lying around can bid on Stan, a 67-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex

Stan, a 67-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, will go on the auction block at Christie's on Oct. 6. (Christie's Images Ltd. 2020)
smithsonianmag.com

Christie’s will auction off paintings by Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso in its evening sale on October 6. But despite the big-name artists, another item up for grabs might crush the competition: a 13-foot-tall, 40-foot-long, toothy skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex.

The 67-million-year-old fossil is estimated to sell for a cool $6 million to $8 million, reports Eileen Kinsella for artnet News. As Zachary Small reports for the New York Times, until October 21, pedestrians and dinosaur enthusiasts can catch a glimpse of the “prize fighter of antiquity” behind floor-to-ceiling glass windows in Christie’s 49th Street offices in New York City.

The ancient dinosaur is nicknamed Stan, after the amateur paleontologist Stan Sacrison who first uncovered its bones in the Hell Creek Formation in South Dakota in 1987.

Five years after the initial discovery, scientists spent 30,000 hours carefully extracting each of Stan’s 188 fossilized bones, reports Jack Guy for CNN. Now one of the most complete T. rex skeletons in the world, Stan has been preserved in the Black Hills Institute in South Dakota for the last two decades. There, scientists have used his bones to write countless academic studies, making it one of the most-researched T. rex skeletons of all time, per a Christie’s blog post.

Stan grew up in the humid, semi-tropical region of Laramidia—the part of the continent that’s now North and South Dakota. Starting out the size of a small turkey, he grew to weigh about seven to eight tons, or twice the weight of an African elephant. As an adult, he could run at speeds up to 25 miles per hour, and his baseball-sized eyes allowed him to spot things up to nearly four miles (six kilometers) away, per Christie’s.

According to the Institute, researchers studying his skeleton found that Stan suffered a broken neck during his lifetime, after which two vertebrae fused together.

T. rexes were likely both predators and scavengers, although scientists have debated the dinosaur’s eating habits for years, as Riley Black reported for Smithsonian magazine in 2011.

“I’ll never forget the moment I came face to face with [Stan] for the first time,” says James Hyslop, the head of the scientific instruments and natural history department for Christie’s, in a press release. He adds: “[H]e looked even larger and more ferocious than I’d imagined.”

The last time an auction house carried out a sale of these prehistoric proportions was in 1997, when Sotheby’s sold T. rex skeleton “Sue” to the Chicago Field Museum for a record $8.3 million. Riley Black reported for National Geographic in 2013 that paleontologists have excavated about 50 T. rex skeletons to date.

It remains to be seen who, whether an individual or an institution, will take the bait in October and bid on Stan. Hyslop calls the opportunity “a once in a generation chance.”

“T. rex is a brand name in a way that no other dinosaur is,” says Hyslop in the statement, adding that for the right buyer, the skeleton might compliment their high-art treasures. “It sits very naturally against a Picasso, a Jeff Koons or an Andy Warhol.”

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