Auction of Unusually Complete T. Rex Skeleton Could Smash Sales Record

The Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton named Stan. (Image: Christie’s)
The Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton named Stan. (Image: Christie’s)

On October 6, Christie’s will be auctioning off Stan — one of the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons ever found. The skeleton could fetch a record price at the auction, with estimates as high as $US8 ($11) million.

Standing 3.96 m tall (3.9 meters) and nearly 12.19 m long (12 meters), Stan would make for a spectacular addition to any well-to-do museum. A more disgusting possibility would see the skeleton land in some rich rando’s private collection, never to be seen again in public. But such are the possibilities, as Christie’s prepares to auction the impressive specimen during its 20th Century Evening Sale event in New York City.

“It is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to acquire a T. rex as complete as this,” James Hyslop, head of Christie’s Science & Natural History department, told AFP.

Stan's massive skull is so heavy that a replica is used when the entire fossil is on display, while the original head is kept in a display box for viewing. (Image: Christie’s)

The skeleton, formally designated BHI 3033, is expected to fetch anywhere between $US6 ($8) million to $US8 ($11) million, and possibly more. The current price record for a T. rex skeleton belongs to Sue, which sold for $US8 ($11).36 million to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago back in 1997. It’s possible that the almost-as-impressive Stan (Sue is bigger and slightly more complete) could sell for more, as it “represents one of the most complete fossil skeletons of the most famous dinosaur species ever to have lived,” as Christie’s explained on its website.

Stan is named after Stan Sacrison, an amateur paleontologist who discovered the skeleton in 1987 on private land near Buffalo, South Dakota. The bones were pulled from the Hell Creek Formation, which is famous for producing dinosaur fossils. The skeleton dates back to the Late Cretaceous, about 66 million to 67 million years ago.

One of many Stan replicas that have been created over the years. This one's located in the Rotunda of the State Capitol in Pierre, South Dakota. (Image: Doug Dreyer, AP)

Christie’s says it took 30,000 hours of labour to excavate the fossil and piece it all back together. Paleontologists from Black Hills Geological Research Institute performed this work, which began in 1992 and required three years to complete, reports AFP.

The skeleton was subsequently put on display at the Black Hills’ institute in Hill City, but these bones have contributed to some very serious scientific work over the years. In 2005, a replica of the skull was shown to exert a bite force of four tons per square inch, which could easily crush a car. Research from 2012 suggests this carnivorous dinosaur’s front teeth were suited for gripping and pulling, its side teeth were built for tearing flesh, and its back teeth sliced chunks of meat in preparation for swallowing. What’s more, punctures in the skull, along with fused neck vertebrae, suggests Stan, a male that died around the age of 20, managed to survive attacks from members of its own species.

As AFP reports, around 50 skeletons of T. rexes have been found since 1902, with near-complete skeletons being few and far between. Should Stan be sold to some anonymous millionaire and never be seen again, that would be tragic but not a complete catastrophe; to date, the Black Hills Institute — a for-profit fossil company — has sold dozens of Stan replicas to museums around the world, each one costing $US100,000 ($136,500).

Stan will be on public display at Christie’s flagship location at the Rockefeller Centre in New York City until October 21. The skeleton can be seen through the window, so you better check him out now before he possibly disappears forever. Here’s to hoping Stan will be sold to a well-established museum and put on public display for all to see. Seriously, unique finds like this should automatically be made a part of the public commons.