There’s a kind-of-weirdly-written Gizmodo article today about a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton and it’s kind of. How do I say this nicely? It’s very superficial. So I’ll try to help.
1. The Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in question has been named by the company that is selling the skeleton. It’s named Roosevelt, so I’ll just refer to it by that name.
2. Roosevelt is a composite from at least three different individuals and is a partially-complete skeleton; the not-found-parts of the skeleton were copied from specimens that had the bones that Roosevelt is missing.
3. The company selling Roosevelt is a commercial paleontological company which might have only one paleontologist on staff, so they aren’t just making up fake dinosaurs here, and they probably legally and ethically collected Roosevelt. So I just want to make it abundantly clear that nothing about this looks illegal or disreputable.
4. That paleontologist is mentioned (by this article from PaperCity Magazine) as being in charge of their lab; I have no idea if that paleontologist accompanies them to their digs; I have no idea if Roosevelt was excavated under the supervision or consulting of any paleontologists.
5. Here’s what that PaperCity Magazine article mentions about the person overseeing the field work:
Tommy Heitkamp, a former natural history department manager at the L.A. offices of auction house Bonhams. Heitkamp came on board with Theropoda in 2012 and now oversees its field operations.
Tommy Heitkamp’s LinkedIn informs me that he has a B.A. in Religion and he’s worked with an auction house which sells fossils, a company which sells fossils, and now a different company which sells fossils, Theropoda Expeditions. I don’t doubt that Mr. Heitkamp is able to identify fossils in the field and work on them in a laboratory but I don’t know where he learned the scientific expertise of collecting fossils in a way that maximizes the data obtained and minimizes the amount of other data tossed out. I’m not saying that he is bad at collecting data but I am saying that this could be a job where having a trained paleontologist in the field might be a good idea.
6. The reporter for PaperCity magazine was only able to get a short interview with the owner of Theropoda Expeditions on the condition that they not name the owner of Theropoda Expeditions.
Crawford tells me the company is owned by the same man who owns the church, an eccentric entrepreneur who dabbles in real estate, retail, tech startups and, lately, paleontology. I’m dying to find out more.
“I don’t know if he’ll talk to you,” Crawford says. “He’s pretty reclusive — sort of a Howard Hughes type.”
Since it seems like the owner of Theropoda Expeditions does not want their name leaked, I will just link to the Corporation Wiki page for Theropoda Expeditions which includes some information. Since he’s interested in hiding his name he should tell Corporation Wiki to hide that information.
7. I think that as long as fossils are being collected in an ethical and legal manner that loses as little scientific data as possible that it’s okay (just not great) to sell them to private collections. I just think that anyone who has 2.39M USD in their bank account and is interested in dinosaurs could make a much more useful contribution to the world by using that money to help fund a museum or a university lab. But that’s just my bias talking.