This dinosaur skeleton was controversially sold at auction to an anonymous buyer by the French auctioneer Aguttes (4 June) in a single-lot sale held in a salon of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. A group of paleontologists attempted to halt the sale, raising questions about the ethics of auctioning specimens of natural heritage to private collectors. The successful bidder paid more than €2m against a pre-sale estimate of €1.2m-€1.8m for the fossil and, according to the auction house, may now name the previously unknown specimen.
The skeleton, which is nearly 70% complete, was excavated by anonymous diggers on private property at the Morrison Formation of Wyoming—an area known for a high density of dinosaur bones—between 2013 and 2015. Although some of its recent history remains unclear, at some point after being discovered the bones were legally exported to Europe and studied at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences of Brussels. Scientists who examined the fossil concluded that the specimen is an undocumented species of the carnivorous allosaurus genus of dinosaurs, according to Aguttes, and estimated that the bones are around 150 million years old.
In a joint statement urging Aguttes to cancel the sale, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP), an organisation that represents more than 2,000 international paleontologists, wrote that naming new species is governed by international nomenclature codes, and that the scientific community considers privately owned fossils unethical to name, study or include in scientific literature.