Whether you call it Tyrannosaurus or Tarbosaurus, T. bataar was one ferocious predator and it was nearly the size of its relative and everybody's favorite Mesozoic nightmare, T. rex. A Soviet expedition (says Wikipedia) found the first one in Mongolia in 1946. A few others are known to science. One near-complete fossil skeleton just sold at auction in New York City for $1,052,500. But sale is on hold while courts sort out its proper ownership - the President of Mongolia says it was smuggled out of the nation and like all fossils found there is nobody's but Mongolia's.
Big teeth, big money, a big celebrity in the family, and now a big lawsuit. That's a heady news mix.
A bit of the background was in circulation a few days ago at LiveScience, by Wynne Parry. She reported it before the contingency sale yesterday (Sunday), but reports that the auction house feels it is unknown exactly where it came from, that the for-sale sign has been out and public for weeks on the skeleton, and that whether it's from China or Mongolia the sale appears to be improper. Bloomberg's Katya Kazakina reported promptly that a judge in Texas ordered a halt to the sale. The AP's Jennifer Peltz picked the thread up this morning, reporting that the auction went ahead, and had a winning bidder pending settlement of leal issues, and providing some of the increased heat and rhetoric around the propriety of selling the beast's remains.
It does seem odd and improper that such scientific specimens are in general commerce. If one walks into a tycoon's house and sees a ankylosaur or mastadon skeleton mounted in the drawing room, that's weird. Such things surely belong in museums. However, rich people, and corporations and other private entities, have all sorts of stuff and drawing sharp lines between what ought to be public and what is legal to buy and sell is not easy. This one will be interesting to watch.
By the way, the agent for the unnamed sellers, Heritage Auctions, has pages of listings on fossils it has for sale. One wonders who put in the high bid for this one.
*UPDATES (Hat tip to Dan Vergano for several links,)
- New Scientist - Jeff Hecht: Tyrannosaur auctioned despite protests from Mongolia ; Hecht gives wider context that, for many readers, will make clear that large-scale looting, smuggling, and illegal sales deeply besmirch commerce in exotic fossils.
- USA Today/Science Fair - Dan Vergano: Tyrannosaurus auction protested by Mongolia ; As often with Science Fair, a post rich with extended excerpts from other sources, emails, and similar inside background.
- USA Today - Dan Vergano: $1,052,500 Tyrannosaur sale proceeds despite court order ; Where we learn that, as the auction began, the lawyer for Mongolia stood up, protested, and with the judge on his cell phone relayed word of the court order to block sale. The auction house promptly escorted him out, and went on with the now-clouded sale.
- Daily Mail (UK) : Waiting to be snapped up, T-Rex's cousin: Near perfect dinosaur skeleton to go under the hammer. Ran last Wednesday. Good pics. Asserts, via an auctioneer, that a man in Dorset is selling the specimen.
Grist for the Mill: Heritage Auctions "Superb Tyrannosaurus Skeleton" ;
- Charlie Petit