On June 4, 2018, an unidentified individual paid just over € 2 million for the right to own the skeletal remains of a “newly discovered species” of dinosaur, and for the right to name it. The venue was the first floor of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. The occasion was an auction organised by maison Aguttes.
The skeleton was discovered in 2013, during an excavation within the Morrison Formation, Wyoming, USA. The formation is a geological structure that is spread over an area of 1.5 million square kilometres. It is centred in Wyoming and Colorado with outcrops stretching as far as Canada, Texas, Kansas and Arizona.
Believed to have been formed between 148 and 155 million years ago, this distinctive sequence of Upper Jurassic sedimentary formation has one of the richest deposits of dinosaur fossils in North America, despite the fact that only a tiny fraction of the formation is accessible to geologists and palaeontologists.
The dinosaur in question is believed to have walked on the earth in the Kimmeridgian period within the Upper Jurassic, somewhere between 152 and 157 million years ago.
When first discovered, it was believed to be the remains of a carnivorous allosaur. Then in 2016, when European scientists were preparing the skeleton, they realised that the specimen presented notable anatomical differences with allosaurs. It has more teeth, its pelvis is more robust, the shoulder bones are elongated, the structure of the skull bones are different, and a large weld exists between the pubic bones.
The two palaeontologists who have studied and noted these differences are: Pascal Godefroit, a Belgian palaeontologist who is the director of earth and life sciences at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, and Simone Maganuco, an Italian Vertebrate Palaeontologist at the Museum of Natural History in Milan.
For presentation, the skeleton featuring 70% of its original bone, has been scientifically mounted on a stainless-steel structure, which also supports the weight of the skull. In most museum displays, a lighter resin copy is used instead of using the real skull. The structure is now nine meters long from point to point and has a height of 2.60 meters.
€ 2,019,680 is the highest price paid at an auction for the skeleton of a dinosaur since the sale of the T-Rex “Sue”.
The previous owner of this dinosaur skeleton had decided to auction it to achieve two objectives. One was to raise funds for two charities, and the second was to increase public awareness about endangered species around the world.
The auction was held at the site of the display and was estimated to raise between € 1.2 to 1.8 million. It was conducted by Claude Aguttes himself in which three bidders from three different nations – France, Japan, and Sweden – engaged in a bidding war that lasted for half an hour. The French bidder emerged victorious with a winning bid that will cost € 2,019,680 including expenses. It will also give the new owner the right to name the dinosaur. The final sale price is the best result since the sale of SUE, the famous T REX, which sold for $ 8.4 in the US in 1997.
To reassure the public and dissuade the concerns of the scientific community of such a complete specimen going to private hands, Claude Aguttes told Reuters: “The buyer is French, and he told me before the sale, ‘If I get it, I would present it to the public.’… Everyone will be able to see it, it will soon be lent to a museum, it will be studied by scientists.”
The Aguttes’ expert for this auction, palaeontologist Eric Mickeler, while expressing his delight at the result, said, “the discovery of this specimen probably represents the high point of my career, so significant are its scientific implications.”
He also stated that as with all authentic dinosaurs, the skeleton was accompanied by a plan of excavation and a legal file.
Aguttes have also previously overseen the sale of two dinosaur skeletons. One was an Allosaurus skeleton which sold for € 1,128,000 in 2016 to Kleber Rossillon firm who have displayed it at the Château de Marqueyssac, Dordogne. The second was a mammoth skeleton which sold for € 548,250 in 2017 to the Strasbourg based company Soprema.
Maison Aguttes was recently chosen by the French Commercial Court to auction a collection of Aristophil’s historic manuscripts
Maison Aguttes was established in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 1974 by Claude Aguttes. By 2017, they were ranked as the fourth largest auction house in the French market, conducting around 100 auctions per year with a team of 40, including four authorized auctioneers.
To fulfil his charity objective, the seller has committed a sum of € 40,000 that will be donated equally to two NGOs that are working for the preservation of endangered wildlife. One is Sea Shepherd working to conserve and protect the fragile biodiversity of oceans. The other is Ann Van Dyk Cheetah Centre working to conserve and protect leopards around the world.