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South Dakota paleontologist alerts famous auction house of case of mistaken identity

South Dakota Paleontologist Pete Larson

NEW YORK, N. Y.  – Touted as the highlight of Christie’s upcoming Hong Kong sales, “Shen” was set to become the first T. rex skeleton auctioned in Asia and was expected to sell for between $15 million and $25 million, according to auction house estimates.

And then paleontologist Peter Larson, president of the Institute of Geology Research in South Dakota, raised a red flag. Turns out “Shen” looked an awful like a T. rex known as “Stan,” a skeleton his organization holds intellectual property rights to after selling it via Christie’s for a record $318 million in 2020.

Christie’s pulled the T. rex skeleton “Shen,” from it’s first fossil auction item offered in Asia. Photo Christie’s

It’s common practice for dinosaur skeletons to be partially reconstructed using casts of other specimens, in addition to original bone, to make them appear whole.

The Black Hills Institute in Hill City, SD, which sells full polyurethane casts of Stan for $120,000, was concerned that the auction house’s catalog listing may be misleading potential bidders. Larson, who is very familiar will all aspects of the bone and structure of “Stan,” said that buyers who were unaware that “Shen” contained casts based on “Stan” would thus be “at risk” of intellectual property conflicts with the organization. He said that 95% or more of “Shen” is actually “Stan.”

Following communication between the auction house and Larson and the Institute’s lawyer Luke Santangelo, Christie’s made the decision to remove the skeleton from its sale, saying “that it remains committed to the fossil category and to our standards of research and presentation for sale.”

According to news reports, Larson has been in contact with the owner of “Shen.” He said the Institute isn’t against people selling T. rex specimens at auctions but that it’s important specimens offered be “true and fair.”

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