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T-rex up for bid on-line

WALTHAM, Mass., Jan. 18 (UPI) -- So far someone has bid $10 million for the 65-million-year-old "absolutely breath-taking" skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex unearthed on a cattle ranch in South Dakota.

Discovered in 1992, the 25-foot-tall T-Rex fossil is being sold on the on-line auction site run by the Waltham, Mass.-based Lycos Inc., with the starting bid set at $5.8 million.

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As of Tuesday morning, 17 bids were listed at Lycos.com. The highest was $10 million from an unidentified bidder. The auction is scheduled to end on Feb. 10.

To assure bidders are qualified, they will have to register with the Internet site Millionaire.com, which will check out the prospective buyer's financial standing.

Nicknamed Mr. Z-Rex in honor of the owners of the property in northwestern South Dakota where the bones were discovered, the 40-foot-long dinosaur fossil was found by paleontologists Alan & Robert Detrich on what is believed to be the sandy shoreline of a prehistoric river, sea or lake.

Alan Detrich said the skeleton "has the best skull with the largest teeth I have seen," some measuring 13 inches.

"The fossil is absolutely breathtaking," he said. "This truly is the King of T-Rex's -- a paleontologist's dream come true."

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Lycos said a T-Rex fossil of this quality could bring an additional $40 million in permanent, annual revenue to the museum that acquires it.

However, some experts said the cost would likely be prohibitive for most galleries.

Chuck Schaff of Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology said such a skeleton would draw visitors to a museum, and while it's not unethical to sell it, "it's just a shame it goes to the highest bidder."

Detrich defended the sale, saying the auction "is open to the world." He said the U.S. government could buy it if it wanted to.

Critics, however, warned that such an auction could encourage more plundering of fossil finds.

"It makes everyone look at it and wonder how to get a piece of the action, and with prices that high, the museums can't play," Andy Neuman of the Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology in Alberta, Can., said in Tuesday's Boston Herald.

Canada banned the sale of dinosaur bones two decades ago, and considers all such fossils property of the government.

The sale of dinosaur bones is legal in the United States.

A female T-rex named "Sue" was sold in 1997 at Sotheby's for a record $8.36 million, and is on display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

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This is the second time Detrich has tried to auction off the skeleton. The first attempt on the eBay auction site ended without a sale because of phony bids posted by pranksters.

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