Maximus, 'one of the best' T. rex skulls on record, could fetch $20 million at auction

photo of a large t rex skull against a black background
(Image credit: Courtesy of Sotheby's)

A remarkably complete adult Tyrannosaurus rex skull will appear at a public auction in New York City in December and will likely sell for between $15 million and $20 million, according to Sotheby's auction house.

The T. rex fossil was nicknamed Maximus, though it is unknown if the animal was male or female. The skull, which is nearly 6.6 feet (2 meters) tall and weighs more than 200 pounds (90 kilograms), was excavated in South Dakota from the famous Hell Creek Formation, a fossil-rich deposit known to contain a trove of unique specimens from the late Cretaceous period (145 million to 66 million years ago). Maximus is estimated to be about 76 million years old, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

Maximus isn't the first Hell Creek T. rex to hit the auction block. Sue and Stan, two near-complete skeletons, fetched $8.36 million in 1997 and $31.8 million in 2020, respectively. And on Nov. 30, 2022, a 3,000-pound (1,400 kg) T. rex skeleton will be up for auction in Hong Kong. For now, that dino is called Shen, but the fossil's eventual buyer will have exclusive naming rights.

Most of Maximus' skeleton was destroyed by erosion, but the surviving skull ranks "among the best and most complete T. rex skulls ever found," Cassandra Hatton, Sotheby’s global head of science and popular culture, said in a statement. 

Related: First Gorgosaurus to hit auction block may sell for $8 million 

"Unearthed in one of the most concentrated areas for T. rex remains, the skull retained much of its original shape and surface characteristics with even the smallest and most delicate bones intact, with an extremely high degree of scientific integrity," Henry Galiano, a Sotheby's consultant, said in the statement. "Without the work of experienced field palaeontologists who carefully collected and preserved this skull, it may have eroded away and been lost to science forever." 

"Extremely rare for a specimen of its kind, all the tooth-bearing jaw elements are preserved, as are most of the external bones on both right and left sides of the skull," Sotheby's representatives said in the statement. "Importantly, these bones represent a single individual without composite elements added." 

Two punctures in the skull hint that Maximus once engaged in a ferocious battle, potentially with another T. rex, although it's unclear if the fight led to the dinosaur's ultimate demise, Hatton told the AP.

Maximus' auction will be held on Dec. 9, 2022, at a live sale in New York City.

Nicoletta Lanese
Channel Editor, Health

Nicoletta Lanese is the health channel editor at Live Science and was previously a news editor and staff writer at the site. She holds a graduate certificate in science communication from UC Santa Cruz and degrees in neuroscience and dance from the University of Florida. Her work has appeared in The Scientist, Science News, the Mercury News, Mongabay and Stanford Medicine Magazine, among other outlets. Based in NYC, she also remains heavily involved in dance and performs in local choreographers' work.