T. rex display heats up debate over auctions of dinosaur skeletons: “Harmful to science”


Dinosaur fans got a glimpse of a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton as it went on display in Singapore Friday before an auction next month, as experts slammed the big-money bone trade as “harmful to science.”

Reuters reported that the display drew thousands of visitors, many of whom took selfies with it.

Visitors take selfies with the dinosaur skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex on display in Singapore on Oct. 28, 2022.

ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images

The one-and-a-half ton frame, composed of about 80 bones, will be the first T. rex skeleton auctioned in Asia, according to Christie’s, which hasn’t given an estimate for the lot.

Dubbed Shen, meaning god-like, it will be on display for three days before being shipped to Hong Kong to be sold in November.

“None of the 20 T. rex that exist in the world is owned by either an Asian institution or an Asian collector,” said Francis Belin, president of Christie’s Asia Pacific.

“We really wish that Shen will find a new home amongst our Asian collectors here.”

The adult dino, which stands 15 feet tall and is 39 feet long, is thought to have been male. It was excavated from private land in the Hells Creek Formation in Montana in the United States in 2020.

“I’ve never seen a real-life fossil before. … It makes me feel in awe because it’s quite majestic,” said Lauren Lim, 33, who went to view the exhibit.

This picture taken on October 27, 2022 shows workers assembling the dinosaur skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex before it was exhibited in a display in Singapore

ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images

Shen — which lived during the Cretaceous period about 67 million years ago — isn’t the only dinosaur auctioned in recent years.

In July, the first skeleton of a Gorgosaurus went under the hammer for $6.1 million in New York. Another T. rex, “Stan”, was sold for $31.8 million by Christie’s in 2020.

But the trend toward prehistoric auction lots has some experts concerned.

“It’s a sad thing that dinosaurs are becoming collectible toys for the oligarch class, and I can only hope this fad ends soon,” said Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh.

He told Agence France-Presse the trend was “bad news for science” and the remains belonged in museums.

Thomas Carr, a paleontologist from the U.S., described such sales as being “unquestionably harmful to science” even if the skeletons had been studied before being sold.

“A secure, permanent collection ensures that the observations that a scientist makes of a fossil can be tested and replicated — and a commercially held fossil has no such assurance,” Carr said.

Belin, of Christie’s, said he hoped a public institution would buy Shen, and added that the whole skeleton had been fully researched, recorded in 3D and “all the elements of the skeleton will be made available for the public to research.”

“We strongly hope that the new owner, whether it’s an institution or private, will ensure that it’s being seen by the public,” Belin said. 

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