WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- A mysterious, nearly complete dinosaur skeleton has been sold for more than $2.3 million by Paris auction house Aguttes, who called the specimen a “new species.”
- While some scientists have questioned this claim, the sale of the 30-foot theropod sparked an outcry among some paleontologists, who argue that whether the well-preserved specimen is a new species or not, it may now be “lost to science.”
- Scientists may never be able to officially identify its species if the dinosaur isn’t made available to researchers.
Some paleontologists have claimed the dinosaur skeleton as a new species, possibly within the Allosaurus genus of large, bipedal dinosaurs, but others called out this claim.
Thomas Carr, a biologist at Carthage College in Wisconsin, told Live Science, “It’s just hype—they’re just trying to get a higher price for it. It looks no different from any Allosaurus that I’ve ever seen.”
According to auctioneer Claude Aguttes’s statement to 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, everything is perfect.”
This claim was disputed, however, in a strongly worded letter sent to Aguttes by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) before the auction.
The letter stated, “Even if made accessible to scientists, information contained within privately owned specimens cannot be included in the scientific literature, because the availability of the fossil material to other scientists cannot be guaranteed, and therefore verification of scientific claims (the essence of scientific progress) cannot be performed.”
Paul Barrett, merit researcher at London’s Natural History Museum, told Newsweek that there is no telling where fossils might end up when they are held by private owners. While some owners put great effort into providing public access, others disappear into obscurity.
Auctions of fossils are not uncommon, as museums may purchase fossils in this way. However, as Barrett stated, “these objects are now starting to move into the same realms as fine art.” This drives up their price, which museums might not be able to afford.
“Fossils are not objects of art. Their value comes not from the creativity of a human being, but from the historical processes of life itself. Fossils that reveal new exciting things about the history of life should be placed in the public trust for everyone to enjoy. Museum quality replicas are what should be auctioned,” SVP president P. David Polly told Newsweek.
Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh told Newsweek, “I hope there is a change in the culture where people with the means and the interest in buying these dinosaurs will instead purchase them for museums instead of keeping them for themselves.”