Jurassic gems: why million-dollar dinosaur bones are the latest celebrity collector’s item

They called it Bone Wars – a period of intense rivalry among the paleontologists of the American Gilded Age. Not long after the California Gold Rush, moustachioed men did battle with pick hammers, racing to unearth dinosaur fossils while trying to ruin each other. Discoveries in the late 19th century sparked a frantic interest in fossils on both sides of the Atlantic.

Now dino fever is back, as auction houses and galleries fill up with specimens that are increasingly being acquired as investment pieces. And there is a new bone war, pitting contemporary paleontologists against a booming market that blurs the boundaries between science and art. For responsible collectors, it can be hard to know where to tread.

In April, Luca Cableri, director of Theatrum Mundi, a gallery in Arezzo, Italy, plans to offer his wealthiest customers what he describes as the “holy grail” of fossils: the skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex.