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Should you buy an Allosaurus skeleton?

In November, a British auction house will sell the skeleton of a juvenile Allosaurus, a distant relative of T-Rex. The auction expects to fetch up to $770,000.

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An animatronic model of an Allosaurus performs during a media call show of the production "Walking with Dinosaurs" in Sydney in 2007.

Tim Wimborne

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Your dreams of owning a predatory dinosaur may come true – that is, if you’ve got $770,000 to shell out.

A British auction house is selling the rare, nearly complete skeleton of a juvenile Allosaurus measuring almost 9 feet. Found in a Wyoming quarry in 2009, the allosaurus will be the first predatory dinosaur to be offered for sale in Great Britain.

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Summers Place Auctions specializes in garden statuary and natural science, dealing in everything from ancient carved marble to taxidermically preserved extinct species. According to a press release regarding the Allosaurus, the auction house expects the specimen to sell for between $460,000 and $770,000 in its third curated Evolution Sale. Previously, the paleontological-themed sales have featured a woolly mammoth named Monty and a gigantic elephant-bird egg.

The allosaurus was one of the largest predators of the late Jurassic period, about 150 million years ago. Fossils of Allosaurs, a distant relative of Tyrannosaurus rex, which lived 80 million years later, have been found in countries around the globe, including the United States, Portugal, Siberia, and Tanzania. Similar to other predatory dinosaurs of its kind, the allosaurus had a elongated, very large skull and a short neck, and a pair of small horns above its eyes. Fully grown, the gigantic carnivore could reach 43 feet in length.

Though only half the size of an adult, the specimen to be featured, the auction house boasts, “still retains an articulated skull showing a set of dagger-like teeth.”

“The Allosaurus, together with the T-Rex, has become the quintessentially large, carnivorous dinosaur in western popular culture,” Summers Place director Rupert van der Werff says in the statement. “Given the size of this Allosaurus it also adds the cute factor and it may not just attract interest from museums, but could also be the wow factor in [a] luxurious living room.”

The private sales of rare fossils, however, haven’t always aligned with the cause of science. When an exceptional piece of history is offered to a private buyer, there’s no guarantee that it will be adequately studied and analyzed by experts as it would in a museum.

In 2006, commercial diggers found the fossils of two dinosaurs entangled in mortal combat in a private ranch in Montana. Beyond the remarkable circumstances in which they were found, both skeletons in question may have been a previously undiscovered, new kind of dinosaurs. The fossils became known as the Dueling Dinosaurs and attracted heavy interest. But in 2013, they were put up for auction by Bonhams auction house in New York City. The reserve price was $9 million, and it was ultimately not met.

“There may not be a chance to draw biological secrets from those bones that can help researchers create the dinosaurian visions in museums, books, and movies that continue to awe and inspire us,” writes Brian Switek for National Geographic three weeks before the auction. “Everyone stands to lose.”

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Nonetheless, it must be said that if it were not for commercial collectors, a lot of fossils would remain undiscovered. And as for the Allosaurus, it was one of the earliest dinosaur discoveries, in 1877. Since then, paleontologists have found their fossils to be plentiful, especially in Utah's Cleveland-Lloyd Quarry, one of the densest sites for Jurassic dinosaur bones in the world.

In its press release, Summers Place Auctions describes the long and tenuous process of preserving the fossil and preparing it for display.


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