The skeleton of “Big John”, an eight-meter-long triceratops, was auctioned Thursday, October 21 in Paris at 6.6 million euros (including costs) to an American individual. This is a record in Europe for the sale of a dinosaur fossil. 66 million years old, “Big John” was estimated at between 1.2 and 1.5 million euros.
The fossil was put up for auction during a sale at the Hôtel Drouot, which each year attracts wealthy collectors passionate about impressive natural specimens. Seduced by the good state of preservation of the skeleton, which is 60% complete (and whose skull is 70% complete), the eleven people registered increased the stakes to 5.5 million euros (free of charge), under the supervision of the auctioneer, Alexandre Giquello.
“It’s a remarkable price”, greeted the auctioneer at the end of the sale. “I did not expect such a result, that’s for sure”, echoed Iacopo Briano, the expert in paleontology and natural history who headed the auction.
The purchaser, an American whose identity has not been disclosed, was “Fell in love” skeleton and sent an emissary to negotiate it. “Big John” will therefore return to the United States, where it was discovered in 2014 in South Dakota (northern United States). The representative of the purchaser also indicated that the skeleton would complete the “Personal collection” of its buyer. But it is also possible that it is then loaned, given or exhibited at a museum, recalled the expert and the auctioneer.
A skull of exceptional size
Unique in size, the “Big John” skeleton was restored for nearly a year by a specialized laboratory in Trieste (Italy). The triceratops lived during the Late Cretaceous period, the last period of the dinosaur era. He evolved in Laramidia, an extinct island-continent that stretched from present-day Alaska to Mexico. The animal died in a floodplain, which explains its good conservation, the skeleton having been buried in the mud, a sediment without biological activity.
Collaborations with the Italian universities of Bologna and Chieti were carried out during the restoration to allow researchers to look into the fossil. Their analyzes made it possible to attest to the exceptional size of the animal’s skull, 5 to 10% larger than that of the 40 triceratops skulls already described by the scientific community.
The researchers were also able to study a trace of laceration near the skull, which probably testifies to a blow with the horn received by “Big John” during a fight with a congener. Triceratops had two long frontal horns.
The sale of this skeleton represents the umpteenth episode of fervor around this type of fossil. The dinosaur skeletons put on sale in recent years have reached record amounts under the impetus of wealthy individuals, to the chagrin of research centers and public museums, often unable to outbid.
The Drouot mansion has already been the scene of several of these auctions: two fossilized allosaurs, ancestors of the T-Rex, were sold for 1.4 and 3 million euros between 2018 and 2020. But the world record remains the sale of a T-Rex in 2020 in New York. A collector had spent $ 31.8 million to acquire the skeleton.
In 2020, however, several dinosaurs offered in Paris did not find buyers, the reserve prices demanded by the seller not having been reached.