‘Big John’, the largest triceratops skeleton ever discovered, is coming to auction at Paris auction house Binoche et Giquello next month. The 66-million-year-old fossil is estimated to sell for a staggering €1.2 million to €1.5 million (£1 million to £1.5 million).
According to Alexandre Giquello, the owner of the auction house, there are a handful of keen enthusiasts interested in the dinosaur. “They are in fact the Jurassic Park generation,” explained Giquello. “They have seen the movies and have been immersed in this Hollywood mythology.”
Measuring a whopping 8 metres long and weighing more than 700kg, this imposing triceratops demands your attention with his three attacking horns and enormous collared skull. But despite his menacing appearance, ‘Big John’ was in fact a herbivore who most likely used his facial horns in displays of courtship and dominance, much like rhinos and deer today.
He was named after the owner of the land in South Dakota where more than 200 of the dinosaur’s bones were unearthed. More than 66 million years ago, this area was an island continent stretching from present-day Alaska to Mexico, now referred to as Laramidia.
He died in an ancient flood plain, laying undisturbed until 2014 when palaeontologists discovered the first of his bones. By 2015, 60% of the skeleton had been found and sent to Italy for restoration.
“It’s a masterpiece,” exclaimed Iacopo Briano, one of the palaeontologists. “There are quite a few triceratops skulls around in the world, but very few of them almost complete.”
Although the market for dinosaur skeletons is small, it is intensely fierce. In 2020 a complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, known as ‘Stan’, was sold at auction at Christie’s New York for a hammer price of $27.5 million (£21.3 million). This was the highest price ever paid at auction for a fossil.
However, the sale of such prehistoric discoveries stoke fear among experts. “Fossil specimens that are sold into private hands are potentially lost to science,” said a spokesperson for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. “Even if made accessible to scientists, information contained within privately owned specimens and future access cannot be guaranteed, and therefore verification of scientific claims (the essence of scientific progress) cannot be performed.”
Dino-lovers and film fans alike can see ‘Big John’ on public display from 16 September to 15 October in Paris ahead of the auction on 21 October.