November 18, 2008
There are few things more nerve-wracking for paleontologists than fossil auctions. Exquisite specimens often command high prices and can be snapped up by private collectors, which keeps important fossils out of the hands of scientists. The impressive Tyrannosaurus “Sue,” for instance, was sold for over $8 million in 1997, a price that required Chicago’s Field Museum to strike a deal with Disney and McDonald’s to afford the one-of-a-kind skeleton.
Even the grandest museums often can’t afford exquisite skeletons without corporate help, and paleontologists worried that a nearly complete Triceratops skeleton set for auction at Christie’s in Paris this past April would go from belonging to one private owner to another. The heavy heads of horned dinosaurs are regularly found, but other parts of the skeleton, like the feet, are much rarer. It definitely was a significant specimen.
When bidding was opened for the skeleton, however, the reserve price for the specimen was not met, meaning that no one had deep enough pockets for the dinosaur.
Then, about a week later, there were rumors of a special deal made after the auction. It looked like a buyer had been found after all, but no one knew where the fossil would end up.
Now the mystery has been solved. The skeleton, given the nickname “Cliff,” has just been unveiled at the Boston Museum of Science. It turns out that the anonymous buyer of the skeleton grew up in Boston and wanted to give something back to the city, and what better gift than a million-dollar dinosaur?
With the understanding that the skeleton would be on loan to the Boston museum for seven years, the Triceratops was disassembled, crated up, and put back together again in Boston. The bones aren’t just for show, though. Researchers will have an opportunity to examine the skeleton and compare it to the remains of other horned dinosaurs, and scans of the fossils have already begun. From paleontologists to the children of Boston, it seems that everyone is happy that “Cliff” has found a good home.
Check out a time-lapse video of “Cliff’s” installation at the Museum of Science:
Image from the Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts.
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.