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The very wealthy are constantly splurging on luxury goods, such as limited-edition sports cars, bottles of wine that belonged to various Founding Fathers, and possibly Roscoe.But one particular investment, made over the course of 66 million years, skyrocketed in popularity among ultra-wealthy buyers and millionaires conduct They actually move in groups.
Prices for dinosaur fossils sold at private auctions have skyrocketed since 1997. tyrannosaurus rex A skeleton named “Sue” sold for almost $8.4 million. This equates to approximately $14.5 million in today’s dollars. Before Sue was sold, most fossils fetched up to about $200,000. Fast forward to 2020 and another of his T. rex named “Stan” sold for his whopping $31.8 million, more than double his 1997 price. But is fossilized bone mania sustainable? Or are we staring at a potential extinction-level event?
So unleash the beast! The park is open. Sit back, relax, and stay still (if you don’t move, they can’t see you) Delve into the fascinating world of fossil economics.
fossil gold rush
It’s not the first time in history that fossils have become a hot commodity. The word “dinosaur” was not coined by him until 1842. Decades later, the hunger for paleontological knowledge became so strong that it became the subject of period dramas.
In the late 1800s, the rivalry between two American paleontologists, Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope (you know the amazing name), was so bitter it became known as the “War of the Bones.” Both men raced across the American West in an attempt to dig up more dinosaur bones than the others. Competition became fierce, resorting to unruly methods such as bribing each other’s workers, stealing, and destroying fossil remains.
Marsh and Cope’s feud ruined both men financially, but was undeniably valuable to paleontology as they unearthed thousands of specimens.The recent fossil market has bankrupted fossil hunters. It’s more likely to enrich than to let, but it’s far less of a benefit to science.
Spare no expense…
Fossil supplies come from a mix of professional paleontologists, amateur scientists and commercial fossil hunters. Paleontologist Riley Black told the Daily Upside that part of that animosity stems from how US laws treat fossils.
“One of the core issues here is that historically fossils have been treated like minerals and oil, especially in the United States,” she said. “While there is a patchwork of laws aimed at protecting fossils on state-owned land, such as national parks and land administration lands, people who find dinosaurs on private land can sell them, destroy them, or destroy them. Nothing will stop them from doing whatever they want.”
“It’s no surprise that some people look at dinosaur skeletons on their property and think they have huge income potential,” Black added.
Popular markets for fossils are auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s, where certain species, particularly the Tyrant King, are guaranteed to fetch eye-popping prices.
“Tyrannosaurus is the coveted dinosaur,” Black said. “They are symbols of power and ferocity. Carnivorous dinosaurs get more attention, as seen in Allosaurus fossils, but when T. rex goes up for sale, people lose their minds,” she said. , pointed to the 2007 bidding war over a T. rex skull between Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicolas Cage. Therefore, it had to be returned to the Mongolian government later.
Even if T. rex is an expensive item, smaller dinos can still fetch high prices.
- in May 2022 deinonychus The skeleton sold at Christie’s for $12 million. Deinonychus has some Hollywood cachets. Jurassic ParkA real Velociraptor is only about two feet tall, so it could barely reach the door handle or turn it menacingly.
- Some auction houses actively sell fossils to private buyers. September 2022 Height 11 feet Iguanodon After being advertised as a “living room dinosaur”, the skeleton sold for $660,738 at auction house Gicello in Paris. .
The fossil market is more than just a traditional auction house. In 2019, commercial fossil hunter Alan Detrich put his T. rex baby fossil up for sale on his eBay for $3 million. WSJMore He “made millions of dollars in the dinosaur business.”
National Geographic… uh… find out how: Privately purchased specimens often disappear into their owners’ homes (and possibly living rooms), but can reappear. In 2022, two years after Stan the T. Rex was sold, national geographic Using U.S. trade records to cunningly trace the skeleton, they discovered he had been shipped to Abu Dhabi. I have confirmed that I plan to It’s still not 100% clear who exactly owns Stan, teeth Ironic given that the United Arab Emirates is rich in fossil fuels.
Rise and fall of dinosaur prices
As the dinosaurs themselves say, what goes up must come down. The current macroeconomic climate is certainly not as dire as an asteroid impact, but it’s still not great.
Some disappointing sales at the end of 2022 could indicate that the fossil market is declining from Gulf-induced highs.
- Christie’s pulled a T-Rex skeleton, named “Shen,” from an auction block in November after paleontologists suggested that some of Shen’s bones bore a suspicious resemblance to Stan’s. Christie’s said Shen’s trustee decided to loan the skeleton to the museum instead.
- Sotheby’s was also as disappointed as the Titanosaurus when a Tyrannosaurus skull sold for just over $6.1 million just over a month later, selling for around $20 million. Cassandra Hutton, Global Head of Science and Popular Culture at Sotheby’s, said: new york times Auctions were “always designed to gauge the market”.
Black told the Daily Upside that the fossil market has been volatile for a long time. In 2013, there was speculation that an auction of specimens called “Dueling Dinosaurs” failed to reach the minimum bid, dropping prices after growing awareness of illegally exported fossils (such as Nick Cage’s skull). But Stan showed how volatile markets can be.
It belongs in a museum! (Yes, I changed the Spielberg movie): A trough in the fossil market will be music to the ears of researchers who are increasingly being devalued from the market. Private auctions of fossils have depleted the supply of certain species for scientific research. According to paleontologist Thomas Carr, about 50% of T. rex specimens are owned by private collectors, many of whom hide them out of sight.
Black said even for academic institutions can If you can afford to buy fossils, “such purchases enhance market value.” She pointed to her T-she-rex Sue, which had been purchased by the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.
Although Black is pessimistic about falling prices, he believes stronger regulations requiring that scientifically significant fossils be documented and properly stored would be a good starting point.
“We are no longer in the 19th century. The idea of enterprising fossil hunters collecting specimens and selling them to museums no longer applies to this field. It’s slowly and painfully coming to an understanding that a tyrannosaur can’t and shouldn’t be owned as if it were a luxury car,” she added.
Or, to paraphrase Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park Mathematician played by Jeff Goldblum: Investor canthey haven’t stopped thinking should do it.