'Jurassic Park' dinosaur fetches $17.3m at auction

NEW YORK • It may not be a Matisse or a Warhol, but this multimillion-dollar sale at Christie's comes from the hand of a different kind of artist: Mother Nature.

Christie's has sold the skeleton of a Deinonychus antirrhopus - a species that became one of the world's most recognisable dinosaurs after the release of the movie Jurassic Park - for US$12.4 million (S$17.3 million), with fees, to an undisclosed buyer.

Thursday's auction continues a series of high-priced fossil sales, a trend that has irked some palaeontologists who fear that specimens could become lost to science if they are bought by private individuals rather than public institutions.

The auction house said the fossil, nicknamed Hector, was the first public sale of a Deinonychus, an agile, bipedal dinosaur known for the menacing claws on its feet.

The sale price was more than double the auction house's estimated high of US$6 million.

The species most likely would not be getting so much attention if not for Jurassic Park. In the novel and 1993 movie, the beasts called velociraptors are actually more like a Deinonychus (the novel's author, Michael Crichton, once admitted that "velociraptor" just sounded more dramatic).

This skeletal specimen contains 126 real bones, but the rest are reconstructed, including most of the skull, the auction house said.

Dating back roughly 110 million years, to the early Cretaceous period, the specimen was excavated from private land in Montana about a decade ago by Mr Jack Owen and his wife Roberta.

Mr and Mrs Owen are self-taught palaeontologists, according to Mr Jared Hudson, a commercial palaeontologist who bought and prepared the specimen.

It was later purchased by the most recent owner, who remains anonymous.

Mr Owen had struck a deal with the land owner on the ranch where he worked, allowing him to dig for fossils and split the profits, he said.

He first spotted some of the bone fragments in an area where he had already found two other animals. Using a scalpel and a toothbrush, among other tools, he and his wife carefully collected the specimen, with some help.

To see it go for millions of dollars is stunning, he said - the profit he received was not anywhere close. But Mr Owen said his fossil hunting was not driven by money.

"It's about the hunt; it's about the find," he said.

"You're the only human being in the world who has touched that animal, and that's priceless."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2022, with the headline 'Jurassic Park' dinosaur fetches $17.3m at auction. Subscribe