May 16, 2022
The remains of a Deinonychus antirrhopus—the prehistoric beast that inspired the velociraptor in Jurassic Park—are believed to be the first of their kind sold at a public auction.It may not be a Matisse or a Warhol, but this multimillion-dollar sale at Christie’s comes from the hand of a different kind of artist: Mother Nature.
Indeed, The New York Times reports that, late on Thursday, May 12, Christie’s sold the skeleton of a Deinonychus antirrhopus for $12.4 million, with fees, to an undisclosed buyer. The auction continues the trend of high-priced fossil sales—a pattern that has irked some paleontologists, who fear that specimens could become lost to science if they are bought by private individuals rather than public institutions.
The auction house said the fossil, nicknamed Hector, was the first public sale of a Deinonychus, an agile, bipedal dinosaur known for the menacing claws on its feet. The sale price was more than double the auction house’s estimated high of $6 million.
The species most likely would not be getting so much attention if not for Jurassic Park. In the novel and 1993 movie, the beasts called velociraptors are actually more like a Deinonychus (the novel’s author, Michael Crichton, once admitted that “velociraptor” just sounded more dramatic).
This skeletal specimen contains 126 real bones, but the rest are reconstructed, including most of the skull, the auction house said. Dating back roughly 110 million years, to the Early Cretaceous period, the specimen was excavated from private land in Montana about a decade ago by Jack and Roberta Owen, self-taught paleontologists, according to Jared Hudson, a commercial paleontologist who bought and prepared the specimen. It was later purchased by the most recent owner, who remains anonymous.
“I had no idea it would end up at Christie’s,” Jack Owen, 69, said in an interview this week. He said he was trained in archaeology and had worked as a ranch manager and fencing contractor.
Owen had struck a deal with the landowner on the ranch where he worked, allowing him to dig for fossils and split the profits, he said. He first spotted some of the bone fragments in an area where he had already found two other animals. Using a scalpel and a toothbrush, among other tools, he and Roberta, his wife, carefully collected the specimen, with some help.
To see it go for millions of dollars is stunning, he said — the profit he received wasn’t anywhere close. But Owen said his fossil hunting wasn’t driven by money.
“It’s about the hunt; it’s about the find,” he said. “You’re the only human being in the world who has touched that animal, and that’s priceless.”
Research contact: @nytimes