Put triceratops on display

The triceratops unearthed in North Dakota should be in the public trust.

Last week Christie’s auction house in Paris announced that an anonymous American collector shelled out nearly a million dollars for a 65-million-year-old triceratops skeleton. During its life, the ancient three-horned herbivore roamed the Badlands in North Dakota, where a rancher discovered it in 2004.

The unnamed collector has yet to announce what she or he will do with this special specimen. It could very well be placed in a private garden for the enjoyment of a few. We have a better idea: The collector should be urged by the State Historical Society of North Dakota to return the triceratops to its home state where scientists, students and thousands of dinosaur enthusiasts can enjoy it.

John Hoganson, the state paleontologist of North Dakota, said to the Bismarck Tribune that it would be a loss for science and the community if this skeleton is not available to the public. North Dakota is known as a good place for archeological digs, but often the fossils are exported elsewhere. If returned, this find would be North Dakota’s first full triceratops skeleton.

Certain categories of fossils, like this nearly complete specimen, are limited in their availability. To allow private owners to keep such treasures of the Earth’s past hidden away would be a waste. The legacy such specimens leave behind needs to be entrusted to museums and researchers, who can best decide how the public can fully benefit from such a find.

The last public auction of a dinosaur was more than a decade ago. The tyrannosaurus went for a cool $8.3 million to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. But the buyer didn’t have the intention of placing the specimen in a private family sanctuary. It was bought to display to the public and enhance the museum’s collection.

We hope and trust that the private buyer will keep the public in mind as she or he decides on the fate of the triceratops. Ideally, this great creature will return to the Midwest, where it last roamed the Earth millions of years ago.