Fossil fraud: T-rex skeleton pulled from HK auction after paleontologist raises doubts about its authenticity

“Shen the T-rex” skeleton. Photo: Christies
“Shen the T-rex” skeleton. Photo: Christies

Those of you who were hoping to purchase your very own authentic Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton to live out your Jurassic Park fantasies are out of luck for the time being as the sale of the very first T-rex skeleton ever to be offered at auction in Asia has been canceled, potentially due to fossil fraud.

“Shen the T-rex” had been set to be the centerpiece of an auction being held by Christie’s next week in Hong Kong, where it was expected to go for US$15-25 million, but the British auction house announced yesterday that it would be withdrawing the deluxe dino skeleton from the sale.

In a statement to the media, a Christie’s spokesperson said, “After consultation with the consignor of the Tyrannosaurus rex scheduled for sale on 30 November in Hong Kong, Christie’s has decided to withdraw the lot. The consignor has now decided to loan the specimen to a museum for public display.”

The auction house did not offer any further explanation for the sale’s cancellation but it comes after a prominent paleontologist raised questions about its authenticity.

Pete Larson, president of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in South Dakota, told the New York Times that parts of the Shen skeleton bore an unmistakable resemblance to the skeleton of another T-rex, dubbed Stan, that Black Hills paleontologists had excavated in the 1990s. One example he noted is that the Shen skeleton’s skull had holes in its lower jaw that were unique to Stan.

Stan’s skeleton was sold by Christie’s in 2020 for $31.8 million.

Larson suspected that replica bones cast from Stan’s had been added to the Shen skeleton so that it could be sold at a higher price.

In its original sales materials, Chrisite’s claimed that the Shen skeleton was one of “the largest, most complete and widely studied” T-rex skeletons on Earth. It did mention that about 80 of Shen’s bones were authentic, but Larson’s observations cast doubt on whether that description was accurate or if more replica bones were used.

The Shen skeleton was briefly displayed in Singapore in late October ahead of it’s now-canceled auction.

If you’re still in the market for a T-rex skeleton and are willing to overlook authenticity, Black Hills does sell painted polyurethane replicas casts of the Stan skeleton for $120,000

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