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Selling one Tyrannosaurus rex Skeleton, which was expected to fetch up to $25 million, was controversially canceled shortly before the behemoth’s bones were auctioned off. The cancellation comes after experts raised concerns that a significant portion of the bones are actually replicas of another famous man t rex Skeleton not disclosed by the auction house.
That t rex Skeleton known as Shen was uncovered in the Hell Creek Formation in Montana and dates from 66 to 68 million years ago Cretaceous (145 million to 66 million years ago). Shen is about 12.2 meters long, 4.6 meters high and 2.1 meters wide and weighs about 1,400 kg. The dinosaur king was should be auctioned in Hong Kong on November 30 by British auction house Christie’s and would have been the first T. rex to be sold in Asia.
However, paleontologists noted that some of Shen’s bones were remarkably similar to another famous bone t rex skeleton known as Stan, The New York Times (opens in new tab) reported. In 2020, Stan was auctioned off by Christie’s in New York for a whopping $32 million, making it the most expensive t rex skeleton of all time.
After mounting criticism, Christie’s announced on November 20 that it would be withdrawing Shen from the upcoming auction just 10 days before it was due to go under the hammer, saying the specimen “would benefit from further study,” the New York reported Times.
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The similarities between Shen and Stan were first spotted by paleontologists at the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research (BHIGR) — the South Dakota-based fossil company that excavated Stan in 1992 and later reassembled his skeleton. The most striking resemblance between the two skeletons is a large hole in the lower left jaw that only Stan had. BHIGR (opens in new tab) President Peter Larson told the New York Times.
Despite Stan’s sale in 2020, BHIGR retained the intellectual property of the famous skeleton and used the copyright to create and sell painted polyurethane casts of the skeleton, currently priced at up to $120,000 each. (One of those casts was sold to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, sparking speculation that the movie megastar was Stan’s mysterious buyer back in 2020.)
After realizing that the company’s copyright could have been infringed, BHIGR’s attorneys contacted Christie’s to find out what was going on.
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“They’re using Stan to sell a dinosaur that’s not Stan,” Larson told the New York Times before the auction was called off. “This is very misleading.”
The legal investigation also raised another important question about the Shen skeleton – how many of the bones are actually original?
Related: T. rex may have been 70% larger than fossils suggest, new study shows
Almost all dinosaur skeletons that are auctioned off or displayed in museums contain at least some replica bones to complete the set. For example, Stan’s skeleton contains 190 original bones — half of the 380 bones scientists believe make up one t rex Skeleton.
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Christie’s claimed that the Shen skeleton had a “bone density” of 54%, but this did little to stifle examination of the bones, since bone density is not a scientific term, according to the New York Times.
Eventually, Christie’s amended Shen’s listing to show that only 79 of the bones were originals, noting that a large number of bone replicas were based on Stan. But after sustained pressure, the auction house has now canceled the sale entirely.
“Christie’s did the right thing,” Larson said at the end.
According to the New York Times, Shen has now been loaned to an unnamed museum for public display until the issue is resolved.