World's largest triceratops 'Big John' fetches €6.65m at Paris auction

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The fossilised remains of the largest triceratops dinosaur ever found went under the hammer in Paris on Thursday for a European record price of 6.65 million euros. France's museums couldn't hope to compete.

Big John roamed modern day South Dakota, in the US, some 66 million years ago during the Upper Cretaceous period – the final era of dinosaurs. He died in a floodplain, buried in mud that kept him well preserved.

In 2014, paleontologists managed to dig up 60 percent of the plant-eating dinosaur's skeleton, which was then assembled by specialists in Italy.

Big John will now return home and enter the private collection of his new unnamed owner. The Drouot auction house said the buyer had fallen "in love" after they put him on public display in Paris last week.

The buyer beat 10 other bidders, with three in particular driving up the price in the final minutes.

"The overall quality of Big John really deserved this price," said Iacopo Briano, a paleontologist involved in Big John's reconstruction.

A distinctive dinosaur

Big John's skeleton consists of 200 pieces – including a skull two metres wide.

Scientists who analysed his bones found his cranium was five to 10 percent bigger than other known triceratops skeletons.

There are signs of damage to the skull, which suggest he may have got into at least one nasty fight.

The triceratops is among the most distinctive of dinosaurs thanks to the three horns on its head – one at the nose and two on the forehead – which also give the prehistoric animal its Latin name.

Museums priced out

The sale was a European record, but still far off the $31.8 million paid last year for a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in New York.

It was clear from the start that museums would be priced out of Wednesday's auction.

"We can't compete," said Francis Duranthon, director of the Toulouse Museum of Natural History, adding that the initial price estimate alone amounted to 20 to 25 years of his acquisitions budget.

Some experts expressed concern about important finds ending up in the private mansions of the ultra-rich rather than in museums.

"Dinosaur fossils belong in museums," said Steve Brusatte, author of The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs.

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