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Christie’s to sell dinosaur that inspired Jurassic Park’s Raptor

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Many people know them as nimble bipedal dinosaurs with menacing claws and crinkly arms, chasing children through a kitchen in “Jurassic Park.”

In the 1993 film, they’re called velociraptors, but these creatures looked more like another related species, Deinonychus antirrhopus — a name that “Jurassic Park” novel author Michael Crichton considered a less dramatic choice.

The movie helped transform velociraptors (well, technically Deinonychus) into one of the most recognizable dinosaurs, alongside T. rex. And now dinosaur enthusiasts can bid on one of their own.

Auction house Christie’s said Friday it will sell a Deinonychus skeleton it calls Hector, which was excavated in Montana several years ago. The company said this would be the first public sale of such a specimen. The estimated price is $4-6 million, which will likely get most “Jurassic Park” fans to put their paddles down.

“It’s the dinosaur everyone wants to see,” James Hyslop, head of science and natural history at Christie’s, said in an interview. “As memorable as that moment with the T. rex’s shaking glass of water is, what really scares us is the moment when the raptors chase those kids.”

Paleontologists have mixed opinions about the practice of auctioning off dinosaur skeletons; some are fiercely opposed to this practice, as it opens up the possibility of specimens falling into the hands of someone who has no interest in scientific and public access but has the money to outbid a museum. (Hector was on display at the Natural History Museum of Denmark for a year and a half, starting in June 2020.)

“It would be a huge disgrace to science and to the public if this disappeared into some oligarch’s basement,” said Steve Brusatte, professor of paleontology and evolution at the University of Edinburgh.

In 2020, a T. rex skeleton, nicknamed Stan, fetched a record $31.8 million, nearly quadrupling its high estimate of $8 million. The buyer was anonymous, remaining a mystery until this year, when National Geographic reported that Abu Dhabi officials planned to include Stan in a new natural history museum.

The auction house takes inspiration from Crichton’s book by calling this lot “the raptor” and naming it Hector, both of which are easier to pronounce than Deinonychus. Dating to around 110 million years ago in the early Cretaceous, the specimen was excavated by commercial paleontologist Jared Hudson on private land in Wolf Canyon, Montana around nine years ago and was later excavated. acquired by its current owner, who is anonymous, according to the auction catalog. Of the skeleton, 126 bones are real and the rest are reconstructed.

Meeting Hector – about four feet tall and 10 feet long, with his tapering tail – isn’t like meeting 13-foot-tall Sue at Chicago’s Field Museum. Hyslop compares it to the experience of meeting a kangaroo at the zoo, rather than an elephant.

Bones that aren’t real are cast or 3D printed, making the creature a kind of work of art as opposed to just a fossil. Most of the skull is reconstructed, which Christie’s says is common for dinosaurs of this type and size. Even Sue and Stan’s skeletons aren’t 100% complete.

Fossils of the species were discovered by paleontologist John H. Ostrom in 1964, and he gave it the name Deinonychus, meaning terrible claw, after the sharply curved tool that the dinosaur, he postulated. , used to cut its prey. Ostrom’s discovery was fundamental to how scientists understand dinosaurs today – that some were less reptilian and more bird-like: fast-moving and possibly warm-blooded and feathered.

“Before that, we thought of them as heavy lizards, and now we know them as very active predatory carnivorous birds,” said Peter Larson, a veteran commercial paleontologist who mentored Hudson and helped identify Hector’s bones when he discovered them in Montana. .

Larson is a central figure in the fossil ownership debate, having led the dig team behind Sue in 1990, before the FBI seized Sue and other specimens, claiming the team had failed to get a federal permit to dig. Years of court battles followed, eventually allowing Sue to be auctioned, but Larson was prosecuted for currency breaches involving overseas fossil sales and was sentenced to two years in prison. (He asked for forgiveness.)

The Field Museum bought Sue for $8.36 million – nearly $15 million in today’s dollars – and Larson said he saw value in the high price tags: that more people would be interested in digging for new specimens. But this way of thinking is criticized by some paleontologists because they fear it will lead to a proliferation of illegal excavations and higher prices, so that public institutions cannot bid competitively.

When the dinosaur goes up for auction on May 12, Hyslop said he hopes it will go to someone willing to share it with the public, noting that “that little boy inside of me wants to see it again. and even”.