Dinosaur for Sale

Who should be allowed to buy dinosaur fossils?

Alain Apaydin/Abaca/Sipa via AP Images

This dinosaur skeleton is nearly 30 feet long.

Going once . . . going twice . . . sold for more than $2.3 million! That’s how much a buyer paid for a 150-million-year-old dinosaur skeleton in June.

No one knows for sure what kind of dinosaur it is. Some scientists think the remains are from a relative of a meat-eating dinosaur called an Allosaurus. Other experts say the fossil looks like it comes from a completely new species.

Scientists may never get the chance to solve this mystery. The fossil was bought by a wealthy fossil collector, not by a museum. When people buy fossils, researchers often don’t get a chance to study them.

History for Sale

The dinosaur remains were discovered on private land in Wyoming five years ago. In the United States, fossils found on private property belong to the person or people who own the land.

Some landowners donate the fossils to universities or museums. But others sell the fossils at an auction. In that case, the person who bids the most money gets it. Dinosaur eggs or partial skeletons can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Many paleontologists, or scientists who study dinosaurs, say these auctions are a huge loss for research. Private collectors can do whatever they want with the fossils. They often display them in their homes or offices. Even if collectors do choose to put the remains on public display, scientists often don’t have access to them for research.  

Museums have bought dinosaur fossils in the past (see “Selling Sue”). But most museums don’t have enough money to compete with wealthy buyers. Many scientists say that’s a shame because fossils can help us better understand the past.  

“When important fossils disappear into private collections, the evidence they provide vanishes along with them,” says paleontologist P. David Polly.

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