Rare Ice Age Dire Wolf skull from the Le Brea Tar Pit Formation for Auction

. May 29, 2010

An 85% original Dire Wolf skull being offered at public auction comes with a direct link to the world’s most famous tar pit, La Brea, and could bring more than $18,000 when it comes up as part of Heritage Auction Galleries Beverly Hills’ Sunday, June 6 Signature® Natural History Auction at 9478 West Olympic Blvd.

“This exceptional specimen originates from the Wilshire Hauser Pit, located directly across the street from the original Tar Pit discovery at Rancho La Brea,” said David Herskowitz, Director of Natural History Auctions at Heritage. “Rancho La Brea is probably the single most important Late Pleistocene locality in North America, if not the world.”

La Brea Dire Wolf specimens are highly prized by collectors since there are virtually none in private hands. That makes this a rare opportunity for a savvy collector to own a classic specimen from America’s most famous fossil sites. It is estimated at $18,000-$24,000.

During the last Ice Age, tar seeps occurred in several locations in southern California – not just at the world-famous La Brea Tar Pit on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. These natural traps would often look like benign ponds of cool water to thirsty animals roaming the prehistoric savannah. Large herbivores would come to drink and, if they were unlucky, step into the water where the sticky tar would entrap them and slowly pull them down into the tar pool. The trapped animals would struggle mightily to free themselves and, in the process, attract opportunistic predators like the great “Dire” wolf, many of which became mired in the tar in the process.

“It was certain death in a manner similar to quicksand,” said Herskowitz, “and certainly the way this unfortunate beast met his end. His bad fortune, however, will be a smart collectors gain.”

Many more unique prehistoric treasures will be joining the Dire Wolf specimen on the auction block on Sunday, June 6 at Heritage, including the first Giant Warthog skull ever to be offered at auction. This giant Megachoerus zygomaticus, or “Killer Pig” as he’s referred to by those close to him, ruled the American plains 29 million years ago and weighed more than 2000 pounds. It is estimated at $45,000-$55,000.

“If you can imagine a creature this big and fierce, imagine it armed with 5-inch dagger-like canines as robust as T-rex teeth and incredible speed,” said Herskowitz. “The Megachoerus skull measures more than three feet long by three feet wide and is 85% original bone.”

An extremely rare fossil of the first beaked bird known in the fossil record, a Confuciusornis sanctus, provides further prehistoric heft to the auction. This piece is striking in its rarity and age, but also for its indelible beauty and sculptural qualities. It is estimated at $14,000-$18,000.

“More than 125 million years ago, the Confuciusornis was more advanced than the Archaeopteryx by having certain vertebrae features and a toothless beak,” said Herskowitz, “and yet it was more primitive than modern birds by retaining large forelimb claws and a primitive skull. There are only handfuls of early bird fossils and it’s extremely rare to find a fine complete specimen such as this.

With so many museum quality gems and minerals in the Heritage Beverly Hills Natural History Auction, the standout has to be “The Hill Twin Emerald,” the longest Emerald Crystal ever found in North America at an impressive 9½ inches. This true jewel, uncovered in North Carolina, is actually two adjoined crystals, hence the “Hill Twin” appellation. The second crystal is sizable in its own right at 7¼ inches. The two together weigh in at a hefty 591 carats. It carries a pre-auction estimate of $130,000-$150,000.

A perfect Calcite crystal, with prime, golden orange coloration and form, that is boldly perched on a blue-violet, cubic Fluorite provides one of the most breathtaking and desirable pieces in the entire auction. The combination of incredible coloring and perfect lines makes this one of the most sublime gem-quality mineral specimens that the famed Elmwood Mine of Tennessee has ever produced. It is estimated at $120,000-$160,000.

Other highlights include, but are not limited to:

A Complete Mounted Small Dinosaur: First discovered less than 10 years ago, the Jeholosaurus was a chicken-sized Ornithopod whose exact place in dinosaur taxonomy is still the subject of research. Its skeleton indicates immediately that it must have been a fast and agile runner, useful as its small size would have made it a delectable snack for the contemporary carnivorous therapods such as the dromeosaurids and early tyrannosaurids. It measures 26 inches long and stands 11 inches high. Estimate: $24,000 – $35,000.

A Large Saber-toothed Tiger Skull: The undisputed king and top carnivore of the Miocene era was the Machairodus giganteues, the largest saber-tooth cat of all time, with its huge serrated sabers and powerful muscles, this fearsome hunter was well equipped to bring down the all but the very largest prey. This incredible specimen was saved from destruction in the late 1990s from the “dragon bone” miners who make their living digging up fossil bones and teeth which will be ground-up into to powders for use as traditional Chinese medicines. Estimate: $28,000 – $35,000.

An 8-foot, 4-inch tall Cave Bear Skeleton: These Ice Age bears were larger than any of their modern descendants and, despite not being a true cave dweller, remains of the Siberian variety are found in large numbers in the caves in which they would congregate for hibernation. It is believed that their decline was due in part to hunting by early man; both the Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons are believed to have prized them as prey and prehistoric shrines utilizing the bears’ skulls with evidence of spear-throwing suggest a semi-religious pre-hunt ritual. This monster (probably female) from the past stands an impressive 8 feet 4 inches high. Estimate: $24,000 – $32,000.

A 7 ½-foot tall Dinosaur Leg: The Diplodocus, from which this leg comes, was one of the longest dinosaurs to ever roam the earth, often times reaching more than 100 feet in length. It had a distinctive long neck and full body, and conforms to what many imagine as the “typical” dinosaur shape – huge beasts that were as big as a house. An excellently articulated leg comprising 20 bones all in their correct position. Estimate: $20,000-$26,000.

An exceptional Gold Crystal from California’s The Eagle’s Nest Mine: This is an exceptional specimen of gold that any museum would be proud to display side by side with equally exceptional historic jewels. The form seems to grow as it rises from a white Quartz matrix, with splashes of burnt sienna surrounding spots of included Gold. The luster and color are as good as it gets for this metal, showing rich, buttery reflections from a multitude of shining faces. The overall dimensions of the piece are 7½ inches high by 2 inches wide by 1 inch thick. Estimate: $170,000 – $225,000.

Heritage Auctions, headed by Steve Ivy, Jim Halperin and Greg Rohan, is the world’s third largest auction house, with annual sales more than $600 million, and 500,000+ registered online bidder members. For more information about Heritage Auctions, and to join and gain access to a complete record of prices realized, along with full-color, enlargeable photos of each lot, please visit HA.com

Category: Auction News

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