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An NFL playoff game between the eventual Super Bowl-champion Los Angeles Rams and the Arizona Cardinals and the appearance of Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson helped set the stage to solve one of the biggest recent mysteries in the paleontology community: finding out where a 66 -million-year-old Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil nicknamed Stan had been shipped off to after its purchase in 2020.
Of course, there’s a backstory here.
Amateur paleontologist Stan Sacrison in 1987 first discovered the T-Rex in South Dakota and it wasn’t 1992 when the Black Hills Institute started to excavate the dinosaur. It took about 30,000 hours for the fossil to be completely excavated and it was at the Black Hills museum for years until a legal dispute between two of the company’s largest shareholders resulted in a judge ordering the fossil’s sale in 2018.
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In 2020, the Tyrannosaurus Rex was sold for an astronomical $31.8 million at a Christie’s auction. However, the buyer of the fossil was shrouded in mystery.
Enter “The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment.”
Johnson appeared on an episode of the “Manningcast” during the playoff game on ESPN back in January. While he casually talked about football and his upcoming XFL reboot, Eli Manning asked him about the skull.
“I got a T-Rex skull. That’s Stan. As a matter of fact, so Stan was the most complete T-Rex skull ever found by a paleontologist, a young paleontologist and his name was Stan. So, this T-Rex head was named after him,” Johnson said.
“Pretty cool and bada–, isn’t it?”
The moment went viral with many in the scientific world wondering whether Johnson was the mysterious buyer. It turned out – he wasn’t.
“In my home office, this is my REPLICA CAST of STAN that I had made and purchased from my friends at The Black Hills Institute of Geological Research and Paleontological Excavations,” Johnson wrote in an Instagram post featuring the replica.
“My love, respect, fascination and curiosity for paleontological & archeological science runs deep – and if I was the proud owner of the real STAN, I sure as hell wouldn’t keep him in my office. I’d keep him in a museum , so the world could enjoy, study and learn from him.”
The viral moment led to a revitalization in interest about where the fossil actually went.
Last week, dinosaur expert and National Geographic writer Michael Greshko revealed he tracked down where the T-Rex had gone – Abu Dhabi.
Greshko told Fox News Digital in a recent interview he initially believed Johnson had a replica of the skull, but there was an outside chance he had the real thing.
FLASHBACK: THE ROCK’S T-REX SKULL ON ‘MANNINGCAST’ RAISES QUESTIONS OVER WHETHER IT’S REAL HISTORIC FOSSIL
“When that went viral, my initial read was that The Rock probably had a replica skull. That said, The Rock is as plausible a buyer for the Stan fossil as any. He’s got the wealth to be able to make that purchase, at least it seems to from the outside looking in,” Greshko said. “And there’s a little bit of a track record from Hollywood celebrities expressing interest in fossil auctions. It’s the sort of thing where I was skeptical he had it but there was a possibility.”
When Johnson’s viral moment happened, Greshko said, enough time had passed since the sale so there was enough trade data to figure out where the fossil was.
“The other key thing is that by January 2022, enough data from US and other international trade data sources … there had been enough time for other trade data set to catch up and cover the period [following] the first few months after Stan’s sale, which proved really important in my investigation into Stan’s sale,” he said.
Greshko’s investigation took him to Abu Dhabi and he learned the fossil was exported from New York City to the United Arab Emirates capital.
Stan is expected to be among the big attractions at the Natural History Museum Abu Dhabi starting in 2025. But whether the whole saga is a good thing for the scientific community is another question.
“I think the biggest (question) is … is this institution is going to be committed to scientific research and to not just making Stan accessible to researchers but all the other items in its collection,” Greshko said. “And all of the public statements that Abu Dhabi has made and all the responses it had to my question, they’ve outlined a very ambitious scientific research agenda and they’ve said explicitly that Stan would be made available for scientific research. So, that’s a win for Stan for sure.”
“This is worlds away from Stan just being a fine art piece in some billionaire’s foyer,” Greshko continued. “When you think about the bigger picture, there are not many large natural history museums in the Middle East. Every additional one of these museums there are, not just for public displays but as repositories for conservation data, for cultural heritage artifacts, if Abu Dhabi follows through and they certainly have the resourcing to follow through this could be a big win for science and education for the region.”
Greshko told Fox News Digital Johnson definitely deserves some credit for helping the revitalization of interest in the dinosaur.
“I think so, yeah. I mean it definitely at least re-upped public interest which had sort of the knock-on effects of shaking the tree. The Rock’s appearance ended up shaking the tree and sources fell out of it,” Greshko said . “The Rock’s appearances helped kind of re-galvanize the search for Stan.
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“I think the other thing too with The Rock, not just his appearance on ESPN, but some of his follow up statements, is that paleontologists at the time really appreciated The Rock’s full-throated support for scientific study of these fossils and making sure that they do have homes and museums where the public can enjoy them and where scientists can study them. Having that specific support from someone of The Rock’s stature and celebrity meant a lot to the researchers I talked to.”
The Natural History Museum Abu Dhabi, located on Saadiyat Island, is set to be about 377,000 square feet.