T. Rex Skull Found in Neighboring South Dakota Sells For $6.1 Million; Whole Region Is Ground Zero

A 200-pound, 6-foot-7 Tyrannosaurus rex skull found in the Hell Creek Formation in South Dakota was sold on Friday in a Sothebys auction for $6.1 million.

Greg Johnson

December 11, 20223 min read

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The original owner of a 200-pound, 6-foot-7 Tyrannosaurus rex skull discovered in the Hell Creek Formation of South Dakota was the apex predator of his time.

Fast-forward 76 million years and the artifact – considered one of the most complete T.rex skulls ever discovered – has a new owner. 

After a six-minute flurry of telephone bidding Friday morning between four potential buyers, the skull, named Maximus, has a new owner, said Cassandra Hatton, global head of Science and Popular Culture for Sotheby’s auction house.

The price tag? At $6.1 million, the buyer got a bargain. Estimates going into the auction was Maximus could fetch as much as $20 million.

Ground Zero For Dinos

While Maximus was found in neighboring South Dakota, the Cowboy State has long been at the forefront of prehistoric discovery and research.

Exploring the origins of early humans and prehistoric times is a passion for Wyoming State Archaeologist Spencer Pelton.

And discoveries like Maximus are exciting for the Cowboy State, he said.

“I do like fossils a lot and I think in the grand scheme of things, fossils really drive home what came before us,” he said. “They show there was this whole world of terrifying, interesting things.”

The size and scope of dinosaur fossils make their discovery and study exciting, he said.

“It really inspires awe, for one, and we all need that,” Pelton said. “It just contextualizes the human experience in a really fundamental way.”

Prehistoric Wyoming

While the discovery and auction of Maximus has made headlines around the world, Wyoming also has recorded numerous important finds.

In September, paleontologist Dr. Scott Persons had a scientific paper published identifying the fossil of a one-of-a-kind polycotylid plesiosaur from the Cretaceous period of about 66 million to 101 million years ago.

The plesiosaur, called Harold, is a 7-meter-long fossil first discovered in 1995 and is displayed at the Paleon Museum in Glenrock.

The stir around Maximus is a reminder that people can find fossils all around Wyoming and the region, Pelton said.

“Wyoming is one of the best states in the country for finding old stuff like this,” he said. “We have very little vegetation, so all the beautiful rocks are on display.”

And if you find dinosaur bones on your land? It’s yours.

“If they’re found on their own property, it’s their stuff,” Pelton said. “But we always appreciate calls. I answer calls about artifacts from people on a weekly basis.”

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Greg Johnson

Managing Editor

Veteran Wyoming journalist Greg Johnson is managing editor for Cowboy State Daily.