What is the controversy about the baby t-Rex to sell on eBay?

A reconstruction (that is, not the actual skeleton of the baby <i>Tyrannosaurus rex</i> that is now on sale on eBay.
(Alan Detrich)

The partial skeleton of a baby Tyrannosaurus rex is for sale on eBay for nearly $3 million. And while it’s anyone’s guess who (if anyone) will buy the “king of the dinosaurs,” the seller is sure of one thing: The specimen will inevitably end up in a museum, ” he said.

“I will guarantee you that you will land eventually in a museum, Alan Detrich, a sculptor and professional fossil hunter in Kansas, which is the auction of the T. rex, told Science. According to Detrich, if a billionaire buys the monster, he or she will probably for tax purposes — gift the dinosaur in a museum one day.

In that case, “everyone is happy, because [the T. rex] is in a museum, and the billionaire got patted on the back and rode off into the sunset on the back of a dinosaur,” Detrich said. [In Images: A New Look at T. Rex and His Kin]

Detrich mentioned the baby t-rex on eBay Feb. 26, and the palaeontological community has been in turmoil since. Legality has nothing to do with the anger. Detrich’s brother Bob took the beast’s fossilized bones in the neighbourhood of the Jordan, a city in the east of Montana, in 2013. Detrich was the leasing of land that is private property, which means that anything found on the land belonged to Detrich.

On the contrary, paleontologists are angry because if a private person buys the baby dinosaur king, that person is not obliged to share it with the scientists engaged in the research, juvenile T. rex specimens. Moreover, even if the predator remains were loaned to an institution or be made available for study, most paleontologists are not as study of the fossils, unless they are donated, which means that the specimen would be available for the study in eternity, and not just when the owner feels like making it accessible.

That is exactly what happened in 2016 when a privately-owned, 120-million-year-old specimen from Brazil drew controversy: A group of scientists call it the first four-legged snake on the plate, and another group known that it is not a snake, but probably a dolichosaurid, a dormant snake-like marine lizard. It’s anyone’s guess what the creature really is, as the specimen owner has declined to let someone else to the study of the fossil.

Find Baby Bob

After excavating the bones, Detrich immediately knew that she belonged to a theropod (a group of bipedal, primarily carnivorous dinosaurs), but he did not know that it was a T. rex, until he took it to Peter Larsson, a paleontologist and director of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in South Dakota.

Enthusiastic, Detrich took the fossils, the home of Kansas, and cleaned. Then, in honor of his deceased mentor, Larry Martin, a vertebrate paleontologist and curator of the natural history Museum of the University of Kansas, he lent it to the museum.

“In honor of Larry, I thought it would be a good thing as I lent this thing to the museum,” Detrich said. “They could study, they could show thousands of people in this instance, and what they have.” Paleontologists are approached by Detrich looked at the bones and estimated that the dinosaur, in the first instance, with the name “Baby Bob” and later “Son of Samson”, was about 4 years old when he died during the late Cretaceous period, about 68 million years ago. [Bloody Guts: Photos of a T. Rex Autopsy]

But after the Son of Samson was on display for two years, Detrich felt like “I’ve had my fair share of giving,” and he posted it on eBay for $2.95 million. He did not initially tell the museum about his plans, but if the museum officials found out, they asked him, that he is the name of the eBay items, so that they are not associated with the auction of dinosaur fossils.

In a statement, museum director Leonard Krishtalka said: “The KU Natural History Museum does not sell or mediate in the sale of specimens to individuals. Accordingly, the specimen on exhibit-loan to us has been removed from an exhibition and will be returned to the owner. We have requested that the owner remove any co-operation with us of his sales list.”

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, also decried the sale: “Vertebrate fossils are rare, and often unique,” the company said in a statement. “The scientific practice demands that the conclusions drawn from the fossils should be verifiable: scientists need to be able to review, re-measure and reinterpret them (such reexamination may happen decades or even centuries after the facts).”

What is the big deal?

The study of private copies is discouraged, Robert Boessenecker, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences at the university of Charleston in South Carolina, who is not involved with the T. rex specimen, said that he would not study, even if the owner offered to lent it to him or to a museum.

In fact, it is common for people to try to drop off of private copies for Boessenecker to identify, shed light on, or even on temporary display.

“That has already happened, and I thanked them for their generosity, but explained that, because museums serve as a centre of research, that every fossil that comes into the museum for a long period of time should become the property of the museum,” Boessenecker said. “If we’re going to see, it is a fossil that is donated or otherwise permanently accessioned [added] in our collection.”

He added that most of the museums don’t have the budget to purchase expensive copies. (An exception is Sue, the most complete T. rex on the plate , which was sold to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago for $8.4 million in 1997.) Instead, most research institutions choose to spend less money by sending their own researchers in the field to find fossils, or rely on the generosity of donors, Boessenecker said. [Photos: Velociraptor’s Cousin Had Short Arms, and Light as a feather, Plumage]

Boessenecker added that many paleontologists have good relationships with fossil collectors, who often, according to researchers from fossil hotspots and exciting. But if they want to loan a copy, it is just not worth the effort, Boessenecker said, in part because the museum is responsible for the housing and the safety of all the fossils that are in its possession. (He detailed other challenges in this Twitter thread.)

In addition, Detrich the eBay listing tips that the young T. rex would be able to solve the Nanotyrannus mystery for once and for all. In short, some experts think that Nanotyrannus is a separate species, but most paleontologists think that it was just a baby t-rex. However, while the teeth of such a specimen would shed light on the mystery one way or the other, Boessenecker noted that the Son of Sampson the jaw is fragmented and part of it missing so it would most likely not solve the case.

In the meantime, the society of Vertebrate Paleontology discouraged institutions from lending for items on the screen.

“We recommend that repositories, exhibitions and scientists stay at arm’s length from instances that are not yet permanently in the public trust,” the company said in the statement. To give an example, “The Museum for natural history [Natural History Museum] in Berlin is currently exhibiting, and studying of an individual tyrannosaur skull, a specimen that can just as easily be removed from the public trust as Detrich young,” the society said.

Although there are no bids on the T. rex, as Detrich told Live Science, “All you need is one.”

  • Photos: See the Armored Dinosaur Named for the Zuul from ‘Ghostbusters’
  • Photos: Newly Discovered Dinosaur Had Tiny Arms, Like T. Rex
  • Photos: The Near-Complete Wankel T. Rex

Originally published on Live Science.

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