A 67million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton from the late Cretaceous period sold for Fr5.5million (£4.93million) at a Swiss auction house on Tuesday.
The skeleton, named TRX-293 Trinity, comprises 293 bones from three different T-rex skeletons, all excavated across the US states of Montana and Wyoming between 2008 and 2023.
Offered by an anonymous vendor from the US, the skeleton was sold to a private European collector. While it is not known if the buyer will allow Trinity to remain on public display, the team at Koller auction house, which offered the skeleton, made the most of Trinity’s visit.
‘It was a wonderful auction because we showed Trinity for two-and-a-half weeks in the concert hall in Zurich,’ said auctioneer Cyril Koller, speaking to AFP. ‘More than 30,000 visitors came and admired Trinity, [including] a lot of children.’
Trinity is considered to be of exceptional quality, with more than half of the skeleton constructed using original bones. The rest are replacements made from plaster and epoxy resin casts. The skeleton measures 3.9m high and 11.6m long.
One of Trinity’s more remarkable features is a complete skull from one specimen.
‘This is something very fragile and very rare,’ said Nils Knötschke, one of the world’s leading professional fossil preparators. ‘In general, dinosaur skulls are quite rare – they are among the most precious components. The skull bones of dinosaurs are often not fused together and they detach from each other easily. When dinosaurs died in the Jurassic or Cretaceous periods, they often lost their heads during deposition.
‘In fact, most dinosaurs are found without their skulls. But here we have truly original Tyrannosaurus skull bones that all originate from the same specimen.
‘To be honest, I was quite nervous when we mounted the skull here in Switzerland, since I was so in awe of it’.
Only 32 adult T-rex specimens have been found across the world. Trinity is the first skeleton of such quality to go on sale in Europe, and only the third in the world. Two other T-rex models discovered in North America, called Sue and Stan, sold for $8.4million and $31million respectively in 1998 and 2020.
‘Trinity is a very special piece – she’s the piece,’ said Dr Hans-Jakob Siber, head of the Dinosaur Museum in Aathal, Switzerland. ‘T-rexes are incredibly rare. The first ones were found over a hundred years ago, but there are only about 20-30 good ones, and they’re already distributed to the big museums around the world.
‘So to have one belonging to the bigger, better group in Zurich is truly fantastic.’
While there are concerns in the community about the proliferation of private buyers – which they argue could be harmful to science if skeletons and fossils are not available for scientific study – the Zurich Zoological Museum’s Dr Dennis Hansen is hopeful the skeleton will still end up on display one day.
‘For people with lots of money who don’t know how to dig up dinosaurs but are still really interested in them, if they want to buy them I see it the same way as art,’ he said. ‘Art historians would also like every important painting to be in the public realm, but experience has shown us that sooner or later, it ends up in a museum anyway.
‘And remember, when we’re digging up dinosaurs, they’re not dug up from tens of metres below the surface. When you find a dinosaur it’s because they’re already eroding away, and if no comes along to dig it out, within two or three generations of human life, it will be completely gone anyway.
‘So if we have to wait two or three generations for a private collector or their grandchildren to donate it to a museum, that’s fine.
‘The dinosaur is already 66million years old – what’s a few human generations between friends?’
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