Next month, Sotheby’s will be publicly auctioning an almost complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skull excavated from private land in a well-known fossil hotspot called Hell Creek Formation in Harding County, South Dakota. The skull, nicknamed Maximus, is estimated to garner between $15 and $20 million, placing it on the list of the most valuable fossils to be auctioned in history alongside iconic dinosaur skeletons Sue and Stan.
At just over six and a half feet tall and more than 200 pounds, the dino skull going under the hammer on December 9 is said to be that of an adult. Though the rest of the body perished due to erosion at the dig site, the skull stands out for its remarkable preservation of the jaw elements, external bones, and numerous teeth across the top and bottom.
Cassandra Hatton, Sotheby’s head of science and popular culture, seems to think that the prospect of acquiring a skull may be more palatable to collectors than the whole body. “When you think about it, more people can fit a skull in their home than people who could fit a full dinosaur,” she remarked to CBS News earlier in the week. When you put it that way, it does really change one’s perspective on vintage home decor, doesn’t it?
Except there’s a pretty significant number of people who don’t think the skull, or any excavation of such rare completion, should be shuttered away in a private home as a conversation piece between sips of wine on a cream-colored sectional. The Society for Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) has been vocal about its disapproval of auctioning dinosaur bones to private clientele, stating in repeated letters to both Sotheby’s, Christie’s (which orchestrated the sale of Stan), and a French auction house Aguttes, that “scientifically important vertebrate fossils are part of our collective natural heritage and deserve to be held in public trust.”
And for private collectors who would loan their dinosaur bones to research institutes or museums, that simply won’t cut it either. “Even if made accessible to scientists, information contained within privately owned specimens and future access cannot be guaranteed, and therefore verification of scientific claims (the essence of scientific progress) cannot be performed,” the SVP elaborated.
So who is buying dinosaur bones, anyways? Well, Leonardo DiCaprio, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Nicholas Cage are just three of many high-profile clients who have purchased dinosaur bones, living out the collective dream of every elementary school-age kid in the world. Actually, Nicholas Cage accidentally purchased a Bataar dinosaur skull from Mongolia at an auction in 2007, but was courteous enough to repatriate it back to the country after it was revealed to have been stolen. The Rock was speculated to have been the buyer of Stan in 2020, but he set the record straight pretty quickly to the media, saying that the T-Rex skull he bought was actually just a cast of Stan’s skull.
Anyone looking to incorporate Maximus into their home collection can consult The Rock for decoration tips, as his Stan replica skull is displayed on a pedestal in his house.