The dinosaur bone market is booming; there are also growing pains


HULET, Wyoming — Leaning over a snowy quarry that moonlights like a fossil hunting ground, Mr. Peter Larsen pointed to a four-inch slab peeking out from under a white blanket. An ordinary stone to the untrained eye, but an obvious dinosaur bone to Larsen.

“It’s 145 million years old, plus or minus,” said Mr Larsen, a 70-year-old fossil expert and trader, as he passed a dig site where seven dinosaurs had already been found.

Hulet is fertile ground for the current dinosaur bone hunting craze. Mr. Larsen has been excavating here for over 20 years, shortly after Sue, a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil he helped excavate, was sold at auction in 1997 for US$8.4 million (S$11.6 million), with which I took a leap of faith. old bones. Local landowners began to wonder if they could grow a new crop: dinosaur skeletons.

Among them were Mrs. Elaine and Mr. Leslie Waugh, who raised sheep on their estate in Wyoming, not far from Devils Tower National Monument, but began to wonder what to do with all the dinosaur fossils they had in the sand found it. to be.

“We just thought we had to do something with his bones,” said 93-year-old Mr Waugh. They enlisted Mr. Larsen, whose excavation business required years of painstaking excavation, including Camarasaurus, a Barosaurus, and a Brachiosaurus.

paleontologists versus money men

Fossil hunting has become a multimillion-dollar business, much to the chagrin of academic paleontologists who worry that specimens of scientific interest are being sold to the highest bidders.

The record price for Sue was surpassed by Stan, another T. rex excavated by Mr. Larsen’s company, which sold at auction at Christie’s in 2020 for $31.8 million. In 2022, a Deinonychus (the inspiration for the Velociraptor from the movie “Jurassic Park”) sold for $12.4 million. As of December, a T. rex skull is estimated to be worth between $15 and $20 million. Buyers include financiers, Hollywood stars, technology industry leaders and a range of new or developing natural history museum facilities in China and the Middle East.

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In November, Christie’s anticipated another blockbuster dinosaur auction, with a T. rex skeleton named Shane expected to fetch between $15 million and $25 million. But sales in Hong Kong were blocked this week after Mr Larsen and others raised questions about the samples.

Mr. Larsen, who seems to be involved in most dinosaur world dramas these days, was looking at a picture of Shane when he realized it looked familiar: the skull looked a lot like Stan’s.

Mr. Larson’s company, the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, retains intellectual property rights to the stain and sells polyurethane casts of each specimen for $120,000. After a lawyer from the Black Hills Institute raised the matter, Christie’s clarified its online marketing materials and said the shed was stocked with replicas of Stan’s bones. On Sunday, Christie’s completely pulled Shane from sale.

Bee. rex named sue

Mr. Larsen is either a renowned paleontologist or a notorious one, depending on how one thinks about the growing bone market. He has been a central figure in introducing dinosaurs to the auction market, and his nearly 50-year career has been marked by bone lawsuits, an 18-month stint in federal prison, a messy legal battle with his brother. Dispute with the Fossil Company, and now an auction house.

It was easier early in his career, Mr. Larsen said, when only a small group of universities, museums and private collectors wanted to buy natural history pieces.




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