Carnivorous-dinosaur auction reflects rise in private fossil sales

Source: Nature

A fossil of a carnivorous dinosaur found in the United States is about to go under the hammer. The Parisian auction house managing the sale, scheduled for 4 June in the Eiffel Tower, says the nearly complete, nine-metre-long specimen is probably a new species, and hopes that it will fetch €1.2 million–1.8 million (US$1.4 million–2.1 million). But international palaeontologists warn that the specimen could be lost to science. They fear that a growing trend for the private sale of fossils is driving up prices, putting potentially valuable specimens beyond the reach of cash-strapped museums and public institutions.

Auctioneer Aguttes says the fossil bears similarities to a species of Allosaurus, but has differences in features including its teeth, skull and pelvis that are significant enough for it to be considered a new species. The creature lived about 154 million years ago, during the late Jurassic period. Although palaeontologists say that detailed studies are needed to confirm that it is a new species, they agree that the fossil, excavated on private land in Wyoming between 2013 and 2015, seems to be unusual and therefore scientifically significant.

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) in Bethesda, Maryland, which represents more than 2,200 international palaeontologists, has written to Aguttes, urging the auction house to cancel the sale. David Polly, the society’s president, told Nature that the society is concerned about scientifically valuable fossils going into private hands rather than a public repository where scientists can examine and interpret them. “Fossil specimens that are sold into private hands are lost to science,” the letter states.