Christie's Abruptly Axes T. Rex Auction

US firm noticed skeleton, which Christie's was to auction off in Hong Kong, borrowed a lot from 'Stan'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 21, 2022 6:32 AM CST

A 15-foot-tall T. rex skeleton that was unearthed in Montana had been set to be put on the auction block later this month. Now, Christie's has yanked the bone set nicknamed Shen from the Hong Kong sale, after an American fossil firm questioned some of the skeleton's parts. The Guardian notes that, because T. rex skeletons usually aren't excavated in their entirety, most of the examples we see on display in museums are finished up with replica bones. Scientists estimate a T. rex's total bone count to be somewhere between 300 and 380, per the New York Times. Shen's skeleton—which had been expected to draw between $15 million and $25 million at auction on Nov. 30, as the first T. rex fossil to be auctioned in Asia—only contains 80 or so original bones, per the description in the Christie's catalog.

For comparison, the skeleton of Stan, a T. Rex sold off two years ago for a record $31.8 million, featured 190 original bones. That would make Christie's claim that Shen is "54% represented by bone density" somewhat dubious. Christie's decided to nix the auction after an attorney for South Dakota's Black Hills Institute of Geological Research pointed out similarities between Shen and Stan. The institute still holds intellectual property rights on Stan, which means it's allowed to sell replica polyurethane bones from that dino—and when BHI President Peter Larson saw a picture of Shen, some of the bones looked a lot like Stan's. Larson suspects Shen's owner, who hasn't been identified, bought a cast of Stan to finish off Shen.

"They're using Stan to sell a dinosaur that's not Stan," Larson tells the Times. "It's very misleading." After hearing from Larson's legal team, Christie's did add a note to its auction description of Shen that explained it had been completed using replica bones from Stan. And a researcher who examined Shen brushed off insinuations that anyone had been trying to hide that fact. "It's pretty obvious that if a skeleton is 54% by bone density, then 46% by bone density has got to be cast," retired University of Manchester paleontologist John Nudds says. At any rate, the auction is now off. "The consignor has now decided to loan the specimen to a museum for public display," Christie's spokesperson Edward Lewine says in a statement, adding that Christie's believes the "world-class specimen" would "benefit from further study" rather than being handed over to a possible private collector. (More T. rex stories.)

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