Largest triceratops ever unearthed sold for €6.6m at Paris auction

An 8-metre-long dinosaur skeleton has sold at auction for €6.6m (about £5.5m), more than four times its expected value, to a private collector in the US said to have fallen in love with the largest triceratops ever unearthed.

The 66m-year-old skeleton, affectionately known as Big John, is 60% complete, and was unearthed in South Dakota, in die VSA, in 2014 and put together by specialists in Italy.

He will return to the US and the private collection of the unnamed buyer, who the Drouot auction house in Parys said had fallen “in love” with the dinosaur after coming to view him. The buyer beat 10 other bidders, with three in particular driving up the price in the final minutes to many times beyond the expected €1.5m.

“I wasn’t expecting this,” said Iacopo Briano, the paleontologist overseeing the sale.

Big John lived at the end of the Cretaceous period, the final era of dinosaurs, and died in a floodplain, buried in mud that preserved him. A horn injury near his cranium suggests he got into at least one nasty fight.

The sale was still far off the record of $31.8m (£23m) paid last year for a 67m-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in New York.

But the price all but guaranteed museums would be excluded from the purchase. “We can’t compete,” said Francis Duranthon, director of the Toulouse Museum of Natural History, before the auction. He said even the initial expected price represented 20-25 years of his acquisitions budget.

Although Big John is heading for a private collection, the auction house said there was still a chance the buyer may lend the skeleton to a museum or gallery for public viewings.

Scientists were able to analyse the bones before the auction.

The triceratops is among the most distinctive dinosaurs owing to the three horns on its head – one at the nose and two on the forehead – that give it its Latin name.

Dinosaur sales can be unpredictable: in 2020, several specimens offered in Paris did not find takers after they failed to reach their minimum prices..

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