Gorgosaurus: 77-million-year-old dinosaur skeleton sells for $6m

The skeleton of a gorgosaurus, a dinosaur relative of tyrannosaurus rex that lived approximately 77 million years ago, has been sold at auction for over $6m.

gorgosaurus skeleton

Sotheby’s said the ancient skeleton, which was discovered in the US state of Montana in 2018, sold for just under $6.07m as part of its natural history auction on Thursday.

It is only one of 20 known gorgosaurus specimens, Sotheby’s said on its website, and the only one known to be available for private ownership. Most of the other specimens were found in Canada, which has strict export rules prohibiting private sales.

The auction house did not say who purchased the skeleton, which measures nearly 3m (10 feet) tall and just under 6.7m (22 feet) long.

The gorgosaurus, whose name means “dreadful lizard”, lived approximately 77 million years ago in what is now the western region of North America, Sotheby’s said.

“This discovery was particularly exceptional due to the rarity of Gorgosaurus material south of the Canadian border, this being one of only few found in the United States,” the auction house said in a social media post earlier this month.

“In my career, I have had the privilege of handling and selling many exceptional and unique objects, but few have the capacity to inspire wonder and capture imaginations quite like this unbelievable gorgosaurus skeleton,” Cassandra Hatton, Sotheby’s global head of science and popular culture, also said in a statement in early July, as reported by The Associated Press.

But the sale has angered scientists, who say allowing dinosaur specimens to be sold to private buyers could hurt their ability to study them.

“There are not very many specimens of gorgosaurus. All the others are in museums. And one more being sold, you might say, ‘Oh well it’s only one.’ But if there’s only a few, that’s a lot of information that we lose,” said Jessica Theodor, president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

“You have no guarantee that whoever buys it is going to allow access to scientists,” Theodor told Al Jazeera.

INTERACTIVE gorgosaurus dinosaur auction
(Al Jazeera)

“I’m totally disgusted, distressed and disappointed because of the far-reaching damage the loss of these specimens will have for science,” Dr Thomas Carr, a vertebrate paleontologist who studies tyrannosauroids, also told the New York Times. “This is a disaster.”

This is not the first time a dinosaur skeleton has been sold at auction.

A T-rex widely known as “Stan” sold for a record $31.8m in 2020, drawing concern from paleontologists (PDF) who urged Christie’s auction house to restrict the sale to “bidders from institutions committed to curating specimens for the public good and in perpetuity”.

In March, the Department of Culture and Tourism of Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, revealed that Stan would go on display at a new natural history museum set to be completed in 2025.

The gorgosaurus predated T-rex by approximately 10 million years, Sotheby’s said, and it is “a crucial piece in the understanding of the evolutionary diversity of the entire Tyrannosaurid family”.

“In comparison to the related Tyrannosaurus rex, the gorgosaurus was 2/3 smaller but probably ran faster and had a few more teeth,” the Redpath Museum at McGill University in Canada, which has a gorgosaurus skeleton on display, also says on its website.

“The two small forearms had two clawed digits or fingers. The teeth had serrated edges like a steak knife for sawing flesh.”

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