‘World’s biggest dinosaur’ skull on sale in Hong Kong: yours for US$1.8m or more
Fossil of a triceratops, dubbed the Dragon King and discovered in 1992, is on sale for the collector who doesn’t quite have everything – yet
Bryan Harris and Alan Yu
The skull of the 65-million-year-old triceratops, found in the US state of Montana, is up for sale in Hong Kong. Photo: SCMP Pictures
You’ve got the sports car, the luxury flat, the wine collection – what’s left for the megarich Hongkonger who truly wants to stand a head above the rest? How about … a massive dinosaur’s head?
Up for sale in the city is a 65-million-year-old triceratops skull dubbed – with more than a hint of pageantry – Lung Wong, or the Dragon King.
But experts have cast doubt on claims by the company marketing the 600kg skull – yours for a price somewhere above US$1.8 million – that it is the “largest, most complete dinosaur skull ever discovered”. And there is concern, too, about the loss to the scientific community of placing such a specimen in a private collection.
“The Dragon King is, quite simply, the most breathtaking, powerful, and aesthetically magnificent fossil I have ever seen in my nearly three decades of experience in natural history,” said Brian Lerner, director of Evolved, the local company handling the sale. “He is the absolute jewel in the crown.”
The massive fossil was discovered in 1992, when elderly rancher Ray Novakovich spotted the beast’s horns jutting from a rock while inspecting his property in the US state of Montana.
Novakovich notified the authorities, but – due to the difficulty and cost of excavating the skull – the specimen was left untouched until it was bought and unearthed by a team of privately financed fossil hunters in 2003.
The piece, measuring 2.8m long, 1.6m high and 1.4m wide, is now “uniquely available for private sale in Hong Kong”, according to the website dedicated to the sale. The website makes much of the dragon’s traditional role in Chinese culture and fung shui, but is coy on the identity of the sellers, described only as “private owners who have long connections with the region”.
However, local paleontologist Dr Michael Pittman rued the fact the fossil could remain locked away in a private collection.
“Commercially sold fossils kept in private collections cannot be studied by paleontologists because they can only publish research on fossils stored in museums or similar institutions,” said Pittman, a research assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong. He also questioned claims the skull was the biggest ever discovered, saying that the largest such skull he knows of is held at Brigham Young University in the US state of Utah.
The international fossil trade has become a subject of controversy in recent years, with a number of high-profile cases of fossil hunters digging without appropriate permits or illegally exporting specimens.
In June, well-known US fossil trader Eric Prokopi was sentenced to three months in prison for smuggling a glut of dinosaur bones, including a 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus, from Mongolia.
The Dragon King, however, “is legally owned and documented and was brought to Hong Kong with complete transparency and in full compliance with all regulations”, Lerner said.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as It’s big, 65 m years oldand yours for US$1.8 m
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 April, 2015, 4:28pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 April, 2015, 9:42am