A Real-Life Jurassic Park Specimens on the Auction Block

. May 23, 2007

Museum-Quality Fossils to be Offered on June 3 at Bonhams & Butterfields in Los Angeles

From the scientific to the superbly decorative, astoundingly unique fossil specimens will be offered by international fine arts auctioneers Bonhams & Butterfields on June 3, 2007 during the firm’s Natural History auction on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles.

A well-documented rare fossil horse specimen — highly sought after by collectors and institutions — will be offered at auction this summer. Displaying a strikingly complete and intact skeleton, with rarely seen flesh contours and possible gut contents, the 50 million-year-old fossil has been identified as Propalaeotherium parvulum. Propalaeotherium was an early genus of equine, descended from Hyracotherium, the earliest horse. Measuring 12-inches high, the specimen to be offered belongs to the smaller of the two species of Propalaeotherium that lived in the Lower Middle Eocene Period. The pre-sale auction estimate for the specimen is $75,000 to $95,000.

The fossil horse was recovered from the Messel Pit Oil Shales near Frankfurt, Germany, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is famous for its exceptionally well-preserved and often complete fossils. Most recently studied and authenticated by B. Erickson, curator of the Paleontology Department of the Science Museum of Minnesota, the evidence of gut contents makes this specimen among the most valuable of similar examples recovered from Messel.
One of the largest and most complete Stegodon skulls to have been discovered in Southeast Asia is to be offered, this heavily mineralized skull is exceptionally large and complete. The lower mandible and tusk stumps were found along with the skull and are from the same animal; which is very rare. The large protruding “chin” indicates that the individual was a bull, likely a young adult that had probably just reached its full growth, as evidenced by the relatively light wear on the teeth. This Stegodon, in life, would have stood approximately 15-feet high at the shoulder. The magnificent specimen was collected in Malaya (now, Malaysia) and has been in the owner’s family for three generations.

The genus Stegodon, from the Greek, stegos, meaning roof, and odon, meaning tooth (referring to the step ridges on the molar tooth) originated in the Late Miocene in Asia. Like elephants, stegodonts are known to have been good swimmers; their fossils are frequently found on Asian islands which, even during periods of low sea level, were never connected by landbridges to the mainland. Stegodon, a 1 -2 million-year-old member of the Elephantidae subfamily, is considered the ancestor of both elephants and mammoths. The skull measures 41 x 77 x 33in and is expected to bring $35,000 to $40,000.

Another skull on offer in the fossil section of the June 3 sale is that of a large, Devonian fish (Titanichtys termieri). Formidable in appearance, the remarkable fishes comprising this genus possessed thick plates of armor on their exterior. They represent the ultimate stage of specialization attained by Dynichthyids. Their gigantic size, unwieldy organization and weak dentition indicate that they were dependent upon an estuarine habitat with abundant food supply. Able to maintain their existence only under peculiarly favorable conditions, they survived for a relatively short period. Exhibiting the distinctive and armor plating seen in the very primitive fishes of the Devonian, the present large skull specimen is mounted three dimensionally on a custom stand (est. $40/50,000).

Bonhams & Butterfields’ Natural History auctions are the largest of their kind, both in terms of number of lots and overall estimated value. The June 3rd auction will include more than 600 lots and will feature distinctive mineral specimens, gold, lapidary works of art and gemstones & jewelry. Along with the exceptional fossil offerings, numerous well-preserved fossils suitable for display (and for use in décor as wall art and sculpture) will be offered, with estimates beginning at $100.

Category: Auction News

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