Largest triceratops skeleton is sold to private collector

The skeleton of the largest known triceratops was purchased by a private collector on Oct. 21 for US$7.7 million (more than R$43 million, in exchange this Thursday, 28). Called Big John, the fossil is 8 meters long and 66 million years old — an age that refers to the Late Cretaceous period, the last era in which dinosaurs lived on Earth.

The sale of the historical piece took place legally at an auction house in Paris, and was acquired by an anonymous American after a long series of offers. According to the organization responsible for the event, the amount raised by the item was 7 times higher than expected — which reveals the current personal interest of millionaires and billionaires in relation to historical artifacts.

The collector was “absolutely thrilled with the idea of ​​being able to take such an item for his personal use,” according to Djuan Rivers, the buyer’s representative. This subject even became the target of criticism on social networks, with people and experts defending the idea that the right place for a fossil of this magnitude should be museums or research and teaching institutions.

The largest known triceratops, nicknamed Big John, was sold to a private collector for $7.7 millionSource: BBC/Reproduction

For those who believe in this position, the pieces represent life on Earth and, therefore, should be treated as a heritage of humanity. Furthermore, the maintenance of fossils in these spaces would guarantee their conservation in a more adequate way, with educational purposes – linked to their historical and scientific value.

The Origin of Big John and the Debate About Selling

The fossilized bones were discovered by geologist Walter W. Stein Bill in 2014 in the state of South Dakota, United States. With 200 parts found and relatively preserved, the excavations were completed in 2015, a process that forwarded the findings to Italian universities, in Bologna and Chieti-Pescara, for cleaning and restoration in order to rebuild the old animal with a view to its sale.

After the team’s work, about 60% of the complete skeleton and 75% of its skull were recovered. Despite the controversies, Big John will return to his home country, where he died in a floodplain, a situation that favored his good conservation status.

Big John Recovered Parts (in red)Big John Recovered Parts (in red)Source: Drouot/Reproduction

In recent years, auction experts have pointed to the emergence of a new type of market, focused on trading rare dinosaur fossils. The Drouot house, responsible for offering triceratops, for example, has already sold other skeletons: two allosaurs between 2018 and 2020 (raising more than US$ 5 million in total). In addition to these, last year a specimen of Tyrannosaurus rex was auctioned off for the record price of $31.8 million.

Because the items fetch sky-high prices, public museums and research centers cannot compete with wealthy private collectors to acquire the fossils. In speech published by the newspaper The Day, Francis Duranthon, director of the Museum of Natural History in Toulouse (France), commented that the prices “are equivalent to 20 or 25 years of our shopping budget.”

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