Stan, the T-rex, sells for $32 million in record-breaking auction

The well-preserved skeleton is about 4 metres tall and 12 metres long

Stan, the Tyrannosaurus rex, was bought by an anonymous buyer over the phone. Courtesy Christie's
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Stan, a remarkably well-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex from more than 67 million years ago, sold at auction on October 6, for $31.8 million. 

The sell smashed the estimated price of $6m, as well as the record for the maximum price paid at auction for a T-rex; Sotheby's sold a dinosaur named Sue in 1997 for $8.4 million.

Stan's anonymous new owner acquired the skeleton after an "intense 10-minute round of bidding" during a live-streamed physical and online auction at Christie's New York. 

Dinosaur hunting

The Cretaceous Badlands, which span the US states of Wyoming, Montana and the two Dakotas, has been the discovery site of many fossils, most excavated in varying stages of decay. However, in the spring of 1987, when amateur palaeontologist Stan Sacrison set out to find dinosaur traces on private land in the area, little did he know that he would stumble upon the hip bones of a Tyrannosaurus rex.

I'll never forget the moment I came face to face with him for the first time – he looked even larger and more ferocious than I'd imagined

While about 50 T-rex bones have been discovered since 1902, Stan stands out for being a near-complete male fossil skeleton. Three months after Sacrison's chance discovery, a professional team of archaeologists and palaeontologists put in 30,000 man-hours to extract from the host rock 188 individual bones that were then cleaned, preserved and restored.

Conversation starter

Today, Stan is about 4 metres tall and 12 metres long with his tail outstretched. His eye sockets are the size of baseballs, which would have allowed keen vision for hunting prey at night, and his skull – one of the most complete T-rex examples – could hold 58 teeth, some as long as 28 centimetres. In 2005, the skull was modelled and tested to recreate a bite force that was strong enough to crush a car.

Stan's skull is one of the most complete T-rex examples, and could hold 58 functioning teeth. Photo: Christie's

Stan was found with the fossilised and partially digested remains of a duck-billed Edmontosaurus and a Triceratops, a powerful three-horned dinosaur. Each of the herbivore specimens displayed bite marks on their bones, a clue to Stan’s ability to hunt, kill and consume even well-­armoured prey.

That is not to say that Stan was indomitable himself. Hatched from an egg, Stan was no larger than a small turkey until the age of 5 and would have required protection from scavengers and his own kind. Between the ages of 6 and 18, though, a T-rex gains an estimated 2.7 kilograms a day.

Even so, as an adult, the fossilised bones indicate that during his lifetime, Stan suffered a broken neck, a punctured rib and vicious puncture wounds to the skull that a rex tooth would neatly fit into. He survived the injuries, all of which were most likely inflicted by another T-rex.

It is not for nothing that the group name for these killers is a “terror of Tyrannosaurs”.

'A brand name like no other'

"I'll never forget the moment I came face to face with him for the first time, after his remount in Colorado – he looked even larger and more ferocious than I had imagined, a specimen that only further establishes the T-rex's position as the king of dinosaurs," says James Hyslop, head of the travel, science and natural history department at Christie's

"T-rex is a brand name in a way that no other dinosaur is. It sits very naturally against a Picasso, a Jeff Koons or an Andy Warhol."

Stan will continue to be on display in New York until Wednesday, October 21. The skeleton will be visible all day through Christie's floor-to-ceiling gallery windows between Fifth and Sixth Avenue, to offer enthusiasts the chance to see one of the world's most fascinating dinosaurs in a socially distanced setting. Museum-quality educational content will be made available via QR codes.