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HomeMarketT. Rex Skull Fetches $6.1 Million at Sotheby’s, Far Short of Expectations

T. Rex Skull Fetches $6.1 Million at Sotheby’s, Far Short of Expectations

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A Tyrannosaurus rex skull sold Dec. 9 at Sotheby’s New York to an anonymous bidder fetched US$6.1 million, a sum that fell far short of the presale estimate. 

The auction house anticipated that Maximus—the nickname of the 200-plus pound, 67 million-year-old specimen unearthed in South Dakota in 2020 and 2021—would grab between US$15 million to US$20 million.

Why the tepid reception? “The estimate was a reflection of how unique the skull is, as well as its exceptional quality, but—given that nothing quite like this has ever come to auction before—we always intended for the market to determine the ultimate price,” according to a statement from Sotheby’s provided to Penta

The auction house noted that there was never a reserve: “While there was a published estimate, it was poised to sell to the highest bid at any value.”

The Maximus sale follows on the heels of another auction house’s ancient fossil sale that didn’t go as expected. 

On Nov. 30 Christie’s Asia was set to offer a T. Rex specimen called Shen to the highest bidder. The fossil was expected to bring in US$15 million to US$25 million. The sale was canceled after doubts were raised about the skeleton that was excavated in Montana. Once the sale was scrapped the consignor decided to loan Shen to a museum.  

Whether these recent events suggest that the art market for dinosaur fossils is headed for extinction remains to be seen. But scientists regard the practice as problematic.

“We’re still learning about even well-known dinosaurs,” says Thomas R. Holtz, vertebrate paleontologist in the Department of Geology at the University of Maryland. “One of the main issues with the sale of dinosaur or other fossils as trophies and collectible objects is that it misses out on a key aspect of the specimens—and that’s data.”

Fossils in private collections typically aren’t accessible for study, unlike ones in museums.


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