Someone Bought a T. Rex Skeleton for a Record-Breaking $31.8 Million

An unnamed buyer paid a record-breaking sum for the fossil, which was up for auction due to a court resolution between two brothers.
October 7, 2020, 4:31pm
​Stan. Image: Stephen Rahn/Flickr
Stan. Image: Stephen Rahn/Flickr

The remains of a Tyrannosaurus rex that lived some 67 million years ago have been sold at auction for $31.8 million, a world record for a fossilized dinosaur.

The near-complete T. rex skeleton, named “Stan,” now belongs to an anonymous buyer who secured the milestone bid at the “20th Century Evening Sale” held Tuesday at Christie's in New York.

The hefty price tag dwarfs what the Field Museum in Chicago paid for its T. rex, named “Sue,” which was procured for $8.4 million in 1997. Sue held the title of “most expensive dinosaur” for more than two decades—until this week.

Stan, also known as Lot 59, was expected to attract a price comparable to Sue, but the bidding war blew past the $6-8 million guide price within minutes and ended up at $27.5 million, with a few million more tacked on for commission fees and other costs.

James Hyslop, head of Christie’s science & natural history department, called the opportunity to buy Stan “a once-in-a-generation chance” in a statement.

“There simply aren’t T. rexes like this coming to market,” he said. “It’s an incredibly rare event when a great one is found.”

Stan was discovered in 1987 by its namesake, amateur paleontologist Stan Sacrison, at Hell Creek Formation in South Dakota. For decades, the remains of the iconic T. rex have been on display at the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City, South Dakota. The specimen was put on sale at the request of a 2018 court resolution between the museum shareholders, who are brothers.

Measuring some 40 feet in length and 13 feet tall, Stan is among the most complete T. rex fossils in the world. The specimen contains 188 bones, representing about 70 percent of the full skeleton. Its skeletal features suggest that it was a male.

Because of the dinosaur’s exceptional condition, casts of Stan have ended up at dozens of museums around the world. Stan’s skull is particularly well-preserved, and contains puncture wounds that suggest the animal tousled with other tyrannosaurs. Some of Stan’s wounds appear to have partially healed before the animal died, at an estimated age of 20.

Given that the buyer remains unidentified, it’s unclear where Stan will end up now. Sue has become a beloved attraction of the Field Museum, so many paleontologists hope to see Stan remain accessible to the public, instead of hidden away in a private collection.

"I am keeping my fingers and toes crossed that this remarkable fossil stays in the public domain for all to enjoy," Phil Manning, a paleontologist at University of Manchester, told BBC News.