Gone Girl? A Stegosaurus Struts on a Jurassic Era Tour — at Sotheby’s 

‘Apex’ is an armored behemoth who feasted on grass and wards off predators with spikes on its tails and kite-shaped plates down its back.

Matthew Sherman via Sotheby's
'Apex', a Stegosaurus fossil from about 150 million years ago. Matthew Sherman via Sotheby's

‘Natural History, Including Apex the Stegosaurus’
Sotheby’s, 1334 York Avenue, New York, NY
July 17, 2024

To call the beast that prowls the third floor of Sotheby’s a fossil would be saying Shakespeare had an ear for rhyme  — not wrong, just inadequate. The fully intact Stegosaurus, named “Apex,” was an armored behemoth who feasted on grass and warded off predators with spikes on its tails and kite-shaped plates down its back. It lived about 150 million years ago, is 11 feet tall and 20 feet long, and is expected to fetch between four and six million dollars.

Apex was discovered in a town called — lest there be any confusion — Dinosaur, in Colorado’s northwest corner. It met its end in the late Jurassic period, and Sotheby’s reckons that “evidence of arthritis indicates that it lived to an advanced age.” The auction house lauds the seemingly flawless fossil as the “finest Stegosaurus specimen ever to appear at auction.” Sotheby’s was involved from the moment the creature was wrested from the earth. 

What is most striking about Apex — it is not known whether it was male or female, though mottled bone suggests venereal disease —  is its poised sinuousness. It is as if a snake sprouted legs. Merely because it did not eat flesh does not make it welcoming. One can imagine many teeth cracking against its defensive shield, the soft skin and chewy muscles and tendons protected by an exterior that would make a Humvee envious. 

‘Apex,’ a Stegosaurus fossil. Matthew Sherman via Sotheby’s.

The fossil record contains traces of Stegosauruses mauled by predators like Allosaurus, as well as evidence of damage, via tail spikes, inflicted by the herbivore on its meat eating foes. Stegosaurus was likely not a strategist — the skull is about the size of a dog’s, small even for a dim dinosaur. Apex’s short forelimbs suggest that it could not have run very fast. That’s where its humdinger of a tail would have started to lash its adversaries.

Apex would never have known one of the greatest hunters ever known, Tyrannosaurus rex. The Stegosaurus had already been extinct for nearly 100 million years by the time T-Rex stalked the Earth. Chronologically humans are nearly as close to the predator as it was to the Stegosaurus. Still, they’ve shared the same halls. In 1997, Sotheby’s sold the first ever dinosaur fossil offered at auction — a complete T-Rex named “Sue” — for more than eight million dollars.

The garland of the most expensive fossil ever sold at auction belongs to Christie’s, which in 2020 sold a T-Rex, “Stan,” for $31.8 million. Two years ago Sotheby’s sold a Gorgosaurus, an older and swifter relative of the T-Rex, for just over six million dollars. In 2015, after a claim filed by a United States attorney, Preet Bharara, the actor Nicolas Cage returned to Mongolia a skull swiped from the Gobi desert by a rogue paleontologist.  

A Senior Vice President at Sotheby’s, Cassandra Hatton, tells the Sun that something of Apex’s posture reminds her of Godzilla, the terrorizer of Tokyo. In the room next to Apex hangs a prop from “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” At least on film, the Stegosaurus can walk again. When asked why these animals continue to exert such a pull on imaginations — and wallets — Ms. Hatton pauses for a moment and answers “because they’re gone.”        

The New York Sun

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