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Baby T. rex once at KU for sale on eBay, sparking outrage. Don’t blame us, museum says

University of Kansas grad student discovers fossils showing how dinosaurs became extinct

KU graduate student Robert DePalma found evidence of the day a dinosaur-killing asteroid struck Earth. He found a treasure trove of fossils at a geological site called Tanis in North Dakota.
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KU graduate student Robert DePalma found evidence of the day a dinosaur-killing asteroid struck Earth. He found a treasure trove of fossils at a geological site called Tanis in North Dakota.

A baby T. rex fossil is for sale on eBay, with a listing price just under $3 million.

The listing says the fossil is on display at the KU Natural History Museum and that a scientific paper on the T. rex “will be forthcoming shortly.”

The description, which associates itself with the University of Kansas, sparked outrage. That shock and concern has been directed at the museum on Twitter.

“This is seriously embarrassing for @kunhm,” Patricia Holroyd tweeted. “As an alum, I am disappointed to see the state’s most important natural history museum acting as a shill for commercial fossil sales.”

“There’s a ‘baby T. rex’ on eBay with a $3 million price tag, advertising that the fossil is at @kunhm and getting a technical writeup as part of the sales pitch,” Brian Switek tweeted. “This is a huge problem with the fossil market, where private specimens can be pulled and sold to whoever, whenever.”

“As a @KUnews @KUGeology alumnus I am very concerned about the reports of a scientific specimen currently on display at @kunhm — and apparently in the process of being scientifically published — being available for sale on ebay,” James Lamsdell tweeted.

The museum has since tried to make one thing clear — neither it nor the university is involved in the sale.

“Are we selling fossils on eBay?” the university tweeted on Monday evening. “NO. The baby #Trex temporarily on view to the public at #KUnhm is not accessioned to our collection & is privately owned. Research is currently ongoing on our own baby Trex, which is not on display at this time.”

“We don’t have anything to do with the ad,” the museum replied to another person surprised to see the fossil on eBay.

Then, on Tuesday, the museum posted a statement from director Leonard Krishtalka.

“The KU Natural History Museum does not sell or mediate the sale of specimens to private individuals,” Krishtalka said. “Accordingly, the specimen on exhibit-loan to us has been removed from exhibit and is being returned to the owner. We have asked that the owner remove any association with us from his sale listing.”

In an attempt to provide clarification, the museum confirmed that the fossil was on display on the third floor, but that it was not one of its cataloged specimens.

Alan Detrich allowed the museum to display it for public viewing, according to a tweet.

The Wichita Eagle reported when this baby T. Rex fossil first went on display at KU in November 2017.

“In modern lingo, it should be on everyone’s bucket list,” Krishtalka told The Eagle at the time. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is one of the best baby T. rexes in the world.”

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The fossil has a 15-foot-long body, a 21-inch skull and teeth like serrated steak knives, according to the November report.

Detrich, an archaeologist and fossil hunter, previously told The Eagle that the fossil was found in a marsh in Hell Creek Formation in Montana and that the dinosaur likely died in a battle.

“But because he did,” Detrich said, “we’ll learn things that we didn’t know before.”

This isn’t the first time a fossil for sale has sparked frustration.

Last year, a dinosaur fossil sold for $2.36 million in a Paris auction, LiveScience reported, “much to the dismay of many paleontologists.”

“’Despite its legality, auctioning off dinosaurs is part of a growing trend that threatens to take unstudied, prize specimens away from scientists who can’t afford to buy them’, said P. David Polly, the president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and a professor of sedimentary geology at Indiana University,” according to LiveScience.

Much like an auction, the baby T. rex listing on eBay does accept offers. As of Tuesday afternoon, 30 “watchers” were keeping an eye on the listing.

The University of Kansas is acquiring a Tyrannosaurus rex and funding the dig through crowdsourcing. KU paleontologist David Burnham and a team are spending most of July at Montana's Hell Creek Formation to continue to uncover the iconic dinosaur.

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