Wed, Apr 11, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Two dinosaurs up for auction in Paris

AFP, PARIS

An Italian scientific consultant assembles the bones of a diplodocus on Saturday before they are auctioned tomorrow with another Jurassic age dinosaur skeleton, an allosaurus, at the Drouot auction house in Paris.

Photo: AFP

The skeletons of an allosaurus and a diplodocus are up for auction in Paris tomorrow, marketed as hip interior design objects — for those with big enough living rooms.

“The fossil market is no longer just for scientists,” said Iacopo Briano of Binoche et Giquello, the auction house that is putting the two dinosaurs under the hammer.

“Dinosaurs have become cool, trendy — real objects of decoration, like paintings,” the Italian expert said, citing Hollywood actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicolas Cage as fans of such outsize prehistoric ornaments.

However, Cage did hand back the rare skull of a Tyrannosaurus bataar, a close cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex, that he bought in 2007 after it was found to have been stolen and illegally taken out of Mongolia.

Dinosaur bones are increasingly gracing collectors’ cabinets, with another huge skeleton, that of a theropod, expected to fetch up to 1.5 million euros (US$1.84 million) when it goes up for auction in June.

“For the last two or three years the Chinese have become interested in palaeontology and have been looking for big specimens of dinosaurs found on their soil, for their museums or even for individuals,” Briano said.

The new buyers are now bidding against multinational corporations, as well as ultrarich Europeans and Americans, the “traditional” buyers of dinosaur skeletons, Briano added.

In 1997, McDonald’s and Walt Disney were among donors stumping up US$8.36 million to buy Sue — the most complete and best preserved T rex ever found — for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

“Millions of people come to see it, it’s incredible publicity for companies,” said Eric Mickeler, a natural history expert for the Aguttes auction house.

Paleontologists acknowledge that many fossils that go on the block are of limited scientific interest, but important specimens do go up for auction and can, as in Sue’s case, be bought through acts of patronage.

The market remains small and “isn’t for everybody,” Mickeler said.

Only about five dinosaurs are put up for auction around the world every year.

The allosaurus which goes on sale tomorrow, among 87 lots of natural artifacts, is considered “small” at 3.8m long.

It is expected to fetch up to 650,000 euros, while the diplodocus — despite being bigger at 12m long from nose to tail — has a guide price of 450,000 to 500,000 euros.

Carnivores like the allosaurus often fetch more than herbivores.

“People like the teeth,” Mickeler said.

The price also goes up if the skeleton shows traces of a fight or an incurable illness, as well as if it is considered rare, has a high percentage of verified bones, or a particularly impressive skull.

“We recently sold a very beautiful piece to a Venetian family. They have a magnificent big room in which the dinosaur is perfectly at ease,” Briano said.

However, Ronan Allain, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of Paris, denounced “completely nonsensical” prices.

“It’s the luxury world; it’s not for people like us,” he said.

“We could decide to buy it pre-emptively, but for the theropod, for example, that would mean shelling out more than a million,” he said.

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