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2008-11-13 – Boston, Usa: Il Triceratopo vinto all’asta presto al Museo (Christie’s Triceratops in Boston)

Il Triceratopo vinto all’asta presto al Museo Christie’s presto sara mostrato al pubblico nel “Museum of Science” di Boston.

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With nudge, a trail of prehistory winds here

By Irene Sege

Globe Staff / November 13, 2008

The brain of Triceratops Cliff, the newest resident of Boston’s Museum of Science, may have been the size of a potato, but its 800-pound head took five people three hours to install. Come Saturday, Cliff will star in an exhibit that could well become the museum’s most famous. It is apparently one of only four nearly complete triceratops skeletons on public display in the world.


How Cliff came to be loaned to the museum for seven years is a remarkable tale that started in 2004 in the rugged, fossil-rich Hell Creek Formation in the Badlands of North Dakota and wound its way to Christie’s auction house in Paris, where a Boston-area art collector bought it for $942,797 in April and named it Cliff, after his grandfather. It was the second dinosaur skeleton ever auctioned, the first being Tyrannosaurus Sue, which Chicago’s Field Museum purchased for $8.4 million from Sotheby’s in 1997. The last stage of Cliff’s journey began in late April, when the buyer, who wants to remain anonymous, called the science museum.

“The museum gets lots of calls along these lines: ‘I have this fill-in-the-blank.’ This is the first time that anybody’s said, ‘I have this dinosaur,’ ” said Paul Fontaine, the museum’s vice president of education. “I was speechless.” The Museum of Science has revealed little about the donor except to note that he enjoyed visiting the museum as a child.

At an invitation-only preview yesterday, fifth-graders from the Excel Academy Charter School in East Boston sat rapt as museum officials pulled the curtain on the dramatic 9-foot-tall, 22-foot-long, 2,000-pound skeleton that appears to be charging into a mural-sized photograph of Hell Creek.

The stark, semi-arid landscape of southwestern North Dakota where Cliff was found bears little resemblance to the subtropical delta of the Cretaceous era, rich in plants and animals, where triceratops and tyrannosaurus rex and a dozen other dinosaur species roamed more than 65 million years ago. Its sedimentary rocks, formed by layers of sand and silt hardened by pressure and time, provide fertile ground for prehistoric fossils. Usually the fossilized bones are trapped under a mountain, or they have been scattered by the elements or the scavengers that picked over the carcass.

What an unnamed fossil prospector unearthed in 2004 was stunning.

“A 70 percent complete animal is very rare,” said John Hoganson, North Dakota’s state paleontologist. “It’s highly significant from a scientific viewpoint because they provide a lot of information not only about the animal but about how the animal might have lived.”

The three-horned triceratops, one of the last dinosaurs to go extinct and the largest plant-eating animal of its era, used its sharp teeth to grind vegetation, and, at 12,000 pounds, it spent most of its day eating. Like sharks, it shed teeth, and rows of teeth waiting below the gumline are visible in Cliff’s giant jaw. It used its horns to charge competitors and predators, the most dangerous of which was T. rex, the largest carnivore of the day, whose bite marks have been found on some triceratops fossils. The fan-like frill surrounding its massive head provided added protection.

An unnamed German collector of contemporary art and fossils bought the bones for an undisclosed sum and then shipped the rocks, wrapped in burlap dipped in plaster of Paris, to Europe. Cliff remained in pieces until December 2007, when an Italian firm cast models of the missing bones and assembled the skeleton for display in Christie’s rotunda in March. “It was an amazing rush job,” said Lynn Baum, an exhibit planner at the science museum.

The art collector who purchased Cliff was browsing European old masters paintings at Christie’s when he spotted the dinosaur. “He was struck by the beauty of the specimen,” Fontaine said. The sale came one year after Christie’s France, in its first auction of paleontologic items, sold a Siberian mammoth for $352,000.

In North Dakota, Hoganson didn’t learn of Cliff’s existence until a week before the auction, because it had been discovered on private land. Scientists can gather important geological information about the animal’s habitat from the area where a fossil was unearthed. “That information is lost for Cliff,” Hoganson said. “It’s kind of like having an archeological pot that is taken out of context from where the pot was made.”

Cliff arrived at the museum in September, shipped by freighter in 10 crates. In October, after moving a mineral exhibit to make room for Cliff, museum staff using giant lifts began assembly. The bones were numbered, but Christie’s had forwarded no manual. “It wasn’t obvious how the shoulder blades went in,” said senior curator Carolyn Kirdahy. Establishing the curve of the spine that would have Cliff poised in perfect balance proved difficult.

“The spine kept getting higher and higher and closer to the ceiling,” Kirdahy said. “It was, ‘Is it going to fit?’ ”

It did fit. Now Cliff becomes the third nearly complete Triceratops skeleton on display in the United States, joining Kelsey at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and an unnamed composite of two animals found near each other at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul. A fourth, Raymond, is in Japan. The skeletons at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington are each composites of several animals.

“To have one of this size is really extraordinary,” Baum said. “It’s a wonderful teachable moment, because people come in already excited about dinosaurs.”

Irene Sege can be reached at



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novembre 13, 2008 - Posted by | America Northern, Aste, Italiano (riassunto), Lang. - Italiano, Musei, Paleontology / Paleontologia | , , , , , ,

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