Baby T rex goes on sale on eBay, sparking paleontologists' outcry
April 23, 2019 9:43 AM   Subscribe

YOUNG (BABY) T-REX TYRANNOSAURUS DINOSAUR FOSSIL US: $2,950,000.00, Free Expedited Shipping: Most Likely the Only BABY T-Rex in the World! It has a 15 FOOT long Body and a 21" SKULL with Serrated Teeth! This Rex was very a very dangerous meat eater. It's a RARE opportunity indeed to ever see a baby REX...
What's the Controversy Over the Baby T. Rex Listed on eBay? (LiveScience): "I'll guarantee you it will" eventually land in a museum, Alan Detrich, a sculpturist and professional fossil hunter in Kansas who is auctioning the T. rex, told Live Science. According to Detrich, if some billionaire purchases the specimen, he or she will likely — for tax purposes — gift the dinosaur to a museum one day.

In that case, "everybody is happy because the [T. rex] is in a museum, and the billionaire got patted on the back and rode off into the sunset on the back of a dinosaur," Detrich said.

Baby T rex goes on sale on eBay, sparking paleontologists' outcry (The Guardian): The skeleton, estimated to be 68m years old, was first discovered in 2013, on private land in Montana. It became the property of the man who discovered it, Alan Detrich, a professional fossil hunter. In 2017, Detrich lent the fossil to the University of Kansas Natural History Museum, where it was still on display when Detrich made the surprise decision to put it up for auction

Analysis of the skeleton may help to settle a major debate in palaeontology over whether small Tyrannosaurs from North America are infants or should have the separate classification of Nanotyrannus. Such research may now be impossible with the fossil likely to end up in a private collection.

The Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology (SVP) has criticised both Detrich, who will be taking an important specimen outside the reach of scientific study, and the university, for helping to inflate the price of the fossil, acting as a shop window for professional buyers.
posted by not_the_water (32 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 


Presumably the various members of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology were entirely free to meet with the landowner, conclude some agreement, and survey for fossils and excavate the fossil under that agreement. My good ol' labor theory of value says that they probably shoulda done that instead of waiting for someone else to mix his labor with the fossil and then yelling at him for wanting to be paid his marginal product.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 10:09 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]


You think the guy did three million dollars worth of labor?
posted by thelonius at 10:10 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]


Oh no, my kid better not see this thread or else...we'll have to sell everything we own to try to buy the dinosaur. [Note to kid: we do not have enough money to buy the dinosaur.]
posted by medusa at 10:16 AM on April 23 [6 favorites]


[Note to kid: we do not have enough money to buy the dinosaur.]

“Uhhh....life finds a way.”
posted by Fizz at 10:20 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


You think the guy did three million dollars worth of labor?

It's not just the labor, but the culmination of his career and expertise. Much like how any other expert's labor is worth a high rate.

But also, it was a gamble. The work he put into it could have resulted in nothing. His willingness to take on the risk entitles him to the reward.

There's a lot more going on than just whether he did $3M worth of labor.
posted by explosion at 10:20 AM on April 23 [20 favorites]


Sounds like good eatin’.
posted by Navelgazer at 10:27 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


I remember this episode, Dino made a bid on the bones then chaos ensues.
posted by clavdivs at 10:30 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]


This sounds like a setup for a Harry Dresden kid's book.
posted by JohnFromGR at 10:33 AM on April 23 [5 favorites]


Oooh, free shipping!
posted by pecanpies at 10:39 AM on April 23 [32 favorites]


It’ll end up in a museum. Sure. Or those Hobby Lobby dicks buy it and smash the devil out of it.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:44 AM on April 23 [9 favorites]


Analysis of the skeleton may help to settle a major debate in palaeontology over whether small Tyrannosaurs from North America are infants or should have the separate classification of Nanotyrannus.

Are you telling me we don't know what baby t-rexs look like? So, either we've never found a baby skeleton, OR baby skeletons are so dissimilar to the adults that we haven't made the connection.

I present to you my brand new, one-of-a-kind, completely scientific theory: Dinosaur Tadpoles.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:48 AM on April 23 [16 favorites]


Oh no, my kid better not see this thread or else...we'll have to sell everything we own to try to buy the dinosaur. [Note to kid: we do not have enough money to buy the dinosaur.]

There is a make bid button.

So you can still bid. Might be fun for kid. Just total up the projected value of all their allowance until you plan to discontinue it and ask them if they want to bid that amount. Then hope you don't win!
posted by srboisvert at 11:04 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


Or those Hobby Lobby dicks buy it and [state their intention to] smash the devil out of it.

NOW we're talking law school exam complication.
posted by ctmf at 11:05 AM on April 23


Analysis of the skeleton may help to settle a major debate in palaeontology over whether small Tyrannosaurs from North America are infants or should have the separate classification of Nanotyrannus.

Unless that Tyrannus is one billionth the size of the accepted tyrannus it should not be a nano. It probably isn't even a micro. I'd venture it is a centityrannus at the smallest and even that is probably a squish.
posted by srboisvert at 11:08 AM on April 23 [17 favorites]


Are you telling me we don't know what baby t-rexs look like? So, either we've never found a baby skeleton, OR baby skeletons are so dissimilar to the adults that we haven't made the connection.

You should watch this TED talk with Dr. Jack Horner about the misidentification of baby dinos. In short, when you have very few specimens, it is easy for juveniles to be mis-identified as another animal entirely.
posted by anastasiav at 11:10 AM on April 23 [8 favorites]


This thread seems like the perfect place to remind everyone of the story of "Sue" the T-Rex, which was also sold at auction. Sue is basically only at the Field because the Field was able to cobble together a group of corporate donors to pay to buy it. It could have just as easily ended up in a private collection.
posted by anastasiav at 11:15 AM on April 23 [6 favorites]


FWIW, the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, Illinois has a 21’ juvenile tyrannosaur named Jane on display.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 11:28 AM on April 23 [2 favorites]


Presumably the various members of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology were entirely free to meet with the landowner, conclude some agreement, and survey for fossils and excavate the fossil under that agreement.

Dietrich - the guy selling it - was either leasing the land hinself or more likely his brother owned or leased it. (The article is a little murky.) In either case, the guy is a professional fossil hunter. It's his full time job. Although there are members of the SVP who work at museums, the majority of them work in academia. Which means the "survey time" you refer to is almost only and just the summer time. Surveying for fossils takes considerable time, effort, and funding; even people who work in museums have considerable demands on their time, like fund raising, cleaning other specimens, publishing, and doing actual research. Not only that, these "professional" collectors often care little for the additional information surrounding the find, which paleontologists do, like what kind of environment was the find in? Is there something available, like pollen grains, from which it can be age dated? Is there evidence of other organisms' behavior - or the behavior of the organism that died? And more. Not only do you lose a wealth of potential information about the organism itself when improperly dug out, you also lose information about its environment, which also has tremendous value. Sometimes, you lose the information which is necessary for doing other research on the bones themselves, which is why "private finds" can be difficult to justify buying for research.

If you think the state of funding for climate science is bad, it's better than the state of funding for geoscience/paleontology programs in general all over the U.S., especially in this time when so many state legislatures are considerably anti-evolution, as well as anti-math and anti-science in general. This also includes many museums. And how much funding do you think the NSF is getting right now? Not only that, many landowners don't want to participate in any kind of agreement, because they see any vertebrate fossils found on their land as a potential cash cow - they've seen the headlines. Or they demand money up front. Which limits many researchers to public land - which has its own hoops to jump through, especially since the government agencies which manage that land has also lost considerable funding and employees. And right now, part of that time/effort/energy is going towards preventing losing some of those public lands as the current administration reduces them. Hell, I know of at least 2-3 projects right now when the skeleton has been found, has been jacketed, and is waiting for transportation from the field site but hasn't for at least a year due to funding problems and/or permit delays (and the researchers involved live in terror their finds will be stolen).

The conflict here is not about the value of the labor, per se. The conflict is that private buyers of fossils, many of whom do not lend their buys to museums, are driving up the value of fossils merely for the sake of ownership, and "professional fossil collectors" who are not researchers are helping them to do it, all at a time when researchers, paleontology programs, and museums are under an enormous amount of strain and intense competition for limited, and decreasing, resources. It used to be many patrons would fund research trips and would get their names on the display in a museum with a "generously funded by"; now many of that same set are paying professional hunters so they can display the skeletons in their homes. We're losing valuable scientific insights to capitalism. And I'm not even going into the ethics side of this particular situation.

And you want to talk about risks? I'm not even talking about tenure, fulfilling grant obligations, risk of research failure, or the loss of potential in educating the public here, etc. Here's a very specific risk: I've personally worked on six projects now where one of two things happened: the landowner was approached by a "professional fossil hunter", saw an opportunity to make money, and pulled out of/refused to renew an agreement (in one case seriously fucking over a Ph.D student and her research). Or we were on public and private land, and our work was stolen to be sold on the "fossil black market". In one case they literally brought in backhoes and a front end loader in the middle of the nightto steal some fossil trackways; in another they took the fossil skeleton the paleontologists had spent two summers excavating and were in the midst of plastering for transport. This is a result of the market forces at work. This is a serious problem; fossil hunters are stealing fossils from our National Parks. So please, tell me, as SVP members are teaching, researching, scrambling for funding, and surveying for fossils, when and how are they going to have be "free" to compete with professional fossil hunters, who just look for fossils all the time and get paid for it, for all the private land that exists out there?

The conflict is also complicated and nuanced. Landowners have a right to make money if they want to; collectors have a right to buy fossils if they want to; people have a right to look for fossils for a living non-scientifically if they want to; it's not about preventing that entirely, and a good deal of the conflict's nuances also involves the scientific community working agreeably with all those parties. There are some good people in that group, too, with some fine ethics and integrity. And I'm not saying every paleontologist or every researcher out there is made of solid integrity, either. But overall it comes down to this: fossils, particularly dinosaur fossils, are yet another limited resource in which many of the haves are winning over the have-nots, keeping the resource to themselves, and driving up the price in the process. This isn't about one guy and his labor; this is about our scientific heritage. This isn't "yelling at one guy"; it's a protest in a conflict in which science - which means everybody is affected, not just scientists - is losing, and I say that as a card carrying member of the SVP.
posted by barchan at 12:13 PM on April 23 [124 favorites]


And as a card carrying member of the SVP, I must feel that in accordance of the society's mission, it is our duty to protest, to "yell" because under our code of ethics it is a member's responsibility to "serve the common interests and facilitate the cooperation of all persons concerned with the history, evolution, ecology, comparative anatomy and taxonomy of vertebrate animals, as well as the field occurrence, collection and study of fossil vertebrates and the stratigraphy of the beds in which they are found" and to "support and encourage the discovery, conservation and protection of vertebrate fossils and fossil sites" which means speaking up against violations of our code, including:
"The barter, sale or purchase of scientifically significant vertebrate fossils is not condoned, unless it brings them into, or keeps them within, a public trust. Any other trade or commerce in scientifically significant vertebrate fossils is inconsistent with the foregoing, in that it deprives both the public and professionals of important specimens, which are part of our natural heritage."
emphasis mine
posted by barchan at 12:15 PM on April 23 [26 favorites]


And the imp of the perverse pushes my cursor toward the "Buy Now" button...
posted by gottabefunky at 1:14 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


There's a lot more going on than just whether he did $3M worth of labor.

I heard an extended radio piece on this not too long ago, and one of the main points being made by someone who works at the museum in question is, once the piece is taken out of the public institution, any work that had been previously done in analyzing the fossil because none of it can be verified or challenged in the search for scholarship on it. It's gone, and all the notes taken on it in the world don't really matter much without the physical object there to verify the notes.

I had never thought of that before, but it's true. I could come up with the most amazing description of a fossil ever, but if I don't have the fossil to show you, either because it got sold or it was made up to begin with, then the notes really don't matter.
posted by hippybear at 2:14 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


I present to you my brand new, one-of-a-kind, completely scientific theory: Dinosaur Tadpoles.

FirstMateKate, you are my new Favorite Person today. 😊
posted by Silvery Fish at 2:14 PM on April 23 [2 favorites]


If you find, say, a Viking Hoard in Scotland, the market value will then be assessed -- and there are people who have gotten millions for significant finds. But you don't get to keep it or sell it privately unless the museums don't want it or can't afford to pay you that market value. They get dibs.

That seems a more sensible to do this kind of thing to me, frankly.
posted by kyrademon at 2:57 PM on April 23 [6 favorites]


Or those Hobby Lobby dicks buy it and smash the devil out of it.

I’d chuckle if it weren’t entirely believable.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:10 PM on April 23 [1 favorite]


I already have one of these. I got it on eBay too, but for somewhat less $. And no I will not tell you how much $.
posted by DJZouke at 5:36 AM on April 24


You think the guy did three million dollars worth of labor?

I dunno. You might argue that the value of his labor here is priceless. It's a complex question raised, this about the value of these kinds of artifacts.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:50 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


y2Hulk think kyrademon hit nail on dino sprat bones head.
posted by y2karl at 11:00 AM on April 24


Or those Hobby Lobby dicks buy it and smash the devil out of it.

Ummm, the fossil hunter who found this skull, Alan Detrich, that's sort of his thing; he makes Christian devotional sculptures out of dino fossils.
posted by peeedro at 12:58 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


That seems a more sensible to do this kind of thing to me, frankly.

Like ivory, the existence of certain antiquities or fossils as market commodities causes negative externalities which affect everyone in the world. It's absolutely correct to respond by prohibiting their sale.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 4:14 PM on April 24 [6 favorites]


From Detrich's homepage:
Then Life changed for Alan when he was honored by a face to face look at the actual Spear of Jesus stored away from public eyes located in Austria.
His art changed, his priorities changed...
So yeah, the scientific value of any fossils that have gone through this guy's hands is, at best, compromised.
posted by straight at 2:14 PM on April 25 [1 favorite]


I was going to make an unconstructively grumpy comment, but instead will just say this makes me terrified for the future of science education in the US.
posted by peakes at 5:49 AM on April 29


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