For sale: A $1.8 million T-rex skull

Story highlights

  • The specimen is one of the most complete T-rex skulls, auction house says
  • It was discovered last summer in Montana by a private dinosaur fossil exploration firm

(CNN)What do you get for the man or woman who has everything?

Officials at one Asian auction house think they have the answer -- in the form of a Tyrannosaurus rex skull worth, in their estimate, at least $1.8 million dollars.
    Collecting cars, art and jewelry may be the usual pastimes of the wealthy but for those looking for something extra special, the "Rees rex" skull might be just the thing.
    Luxify, a high-end, online auction house that's previously been in the news for trying to sell Michael Jackson's former home Neverland Ranch, posted it online with a reserve price of $1.8 million.
    According to the site, it is one of the most complete and highest-quality Tyrannosaurus rex skulls to ever come to market and "will be an excellent specimen for display and academic study."
    It dates from the late Cretaceous period, roughly 65.5 to 72 million years ago, and is about 94% intact.
    Luxify said a private American dinosaur fossil exploration firm, Theropoda Expeditions, discovered the specimen last summer on a ranch in northeastern Montana.
    A partially preserved tail and a set of ribs were also discovered with it, forming 28% of a full skeletal specimen.
    Separately, another Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, which is 45% complete, is also available for bids with a reserve price of $2.39 million. A 72% complete mounted Triceratops prorsus skeleton could also be yours for around $790,000 or more.
    A frontal view of the Rees Rex skull.

    Elite world of dinosaur fossil collecting

    While you might think that the market for dinosaur fossils is rather niche, Florian Martigny, co-founder of the site Luxify, said the lot could appeal to many buyers.
    "It would probably be a passionate collector," Martigny said. "It could also be a corporation -- oil and gas companies would be interested in having such items in their headquarters. The target audience is really wide. There are not many pieces available to the public. Most of the museum skulls you see are not actually real fossils."
    Professor Paul Barrett of the Natural History Museum in London, who has published research on the private trade of fossils, has not seen the specimen but said judging from its listing, it is "not a unique object but it is a rare one."
    "There are a few very nice T-rex skulls in both museum collections and private collections and this one sounds like a particularly nice one," he told CNN.
    The size of the private market for fossils is unclear, but Barrett estimates it to be a fairly big trade, although most of the sales take place through private deals, not at auction.
    With many large fairs around the world, the trade must amount to "hundreds of millions of dollars every year but potentially a lot more than that," he said.
    The back view of the Rees Rex skull.

    Ethical question

    But wouldn't a specimen like this be more suited to a museum or academic institution than reserved for the eyes of a select few?
    Barrett said the Natural History Museum doesn't actively encourage private trade but acknowledges that many items would be lost to erosion and natural elements if they weren't commercially collected. Private collections sometimes can spur an interest in the science, he also pointed out.
    His view is not shared by all of his paleontology peers. Some of them take a much more antagonistic view given that it opens up the possibility that proper documentation -- records of where the item was found, the age of the rocks and the type -- is usually not as meticulously kept among private collectors.
    The trade of fossils, nonetheless, is a legitimate business in many countries, Barrett said.
    Most private collector activity takes places in the U.S, Europe, and Japan but there is "an increasingly large market for high-end objects in China and also the Middle East," he said.
    The "Rees rex" is right on trend -- Luxify said the firm that discovered the specimen sought out an auction to gain more exposure to Asia.
    "There are a few fairs in China, Singapore, and Japan but not many auctions," Barrett said. "These are basically trophy objects."