If you’ve visited the Museum of Science, Boston, and you’ve seen its fossil room, then you’ve seen Cliff.
[image of Cliff, taken by the author]
It is an impressive specimen, and it is named after the grandfather of its anonymous donor.
“Cliff is mostly complete,” wrote E. James Kraus, Jr., the museum’s Executive Director of Development and Campaign Director, “making it one of the world’s rarest paleontological finds, and one of only four other largely complete Triceratops fossils on display in the world.”
The basic details of its excavation, purchase and temporary home in the Museum are in the public record:
- It was excavated in the Hell Creek Formation in North Dakota in 2004.
- Because it was discovered on private U.S. land, the fossil could be sold, and it was.
- It was prepared by a commercial fossil company and mounted in Italy.
- Its first owner was a private collector from Germany.
- The fossil was auctioned by Christie’s in Paris, 2008; the asking price was not met.
- Ultimately, the winning bid of $942,797 was from an anonymous man who was raised in Boston.
- That man contacted the Museum of Science and offered to loan the fossil for a period of 7 years, as a way of giving back to the community.
Fin du Crétacé, entre 67 et 65 millions d’années avant notre ère, découvert en 2004, Nord Dakota, Etats-Unis
T.Horridus Marsh 1889
La longueur totale est de 6m80 avec le montage actuel.
The total length of this lot as currently mounted is 268 in.
Le squelette pourra recevoir le nom choisi par son futur acquéreur. Une plaque de détermination est placée sur le socle avec une surface vierge destinée au nom de baptême futur du dinosaure et au nom de l’acquéreur.
Le socle à gradin en bois et la monture en inox d’inspiration moderniste participe à la préciosité de l’ensemble.
[info from Cliff’s original catalog listing at Christie’s, courtesy of Christie’s]
That 7-year loan is about to expire, and in order to keep the fossil, the Museum of Science is currently trying to raise $850,000 by June 2015.
“At auction, Cliff is now valued in excess of $2 million, and Cliff’s owner has agreed to gift $1 million+ if we can raise the $850,000,” E. James Kraus, Jr. explained.
“We are planning several fundraising events,” he continued, “but the details are still being finalized.”
If you visit the museum and buy anything from its gift shops, you will see donation jars, and you will be asked if you’d like to round up the sum of your purchase to the nearest dollar to go toward this effort.
There is also on online campaign to raise money here: http://mos.org/keepcliff
The requisite sum might seem extraordinary. And, if nothing else, it calls into question the concept of fossil ownership in this country. Most people cannot afford to buy such fossils; few would donate them, on loan or otherwise.
This particular author is extremely grateful to be able to gaze at Cliff, stare at it from various angles and ponder what the animal might have been like in life, not to mention what it took to actually excavate the skeleton. The opportunity to see something that enormous and that rare, rather than a replica, cannot be overstated.
This, according to E. James Kraus, Jr., is what the donor hoped.
“He wished to have the fossil displayed for the education and enjoyment of the public and generously offered the fossil on long-term loan to the Museum of Science.”
And yet, the number of unanswered questions—in a field in which questions and transparency are encouraged–leaves this author a little unsettled. Details that are a normal part of a fossil’s provenance are, in this case, absent to the public.
- Who discovered the fossil?
- Who excavated it?
- How long did it take to excavate?
- Who prepared the skeleton?
- How, if at all, was it preserved?
Further questions, prompted by the situation of buying-and-selling a fossil, are also absent:
- Who originally sold it to the German collector?
- Why was the loan to the Boston Museum for 7 years?
And ultimately, the question that rises above all else: If the sum of $850,000 is not raised, will it be put back on auction?
You can help: http://mos.org/keepcliff
The author would like to state–for the record–that personal opinions in this piece are not those of the Boston Museum of Science or of Christie’s.
Truly, thank you to Cliff’s donor for enabling us to share in this wonderful fossil!
Thank you to Erin Shannon, E. James Kraus, Jr., and to Beverly Bueninck!
And thank you to all of those at the Museum of Science for working toward keeping Cliff!
[image of Cliff, taken by the author]