Fossils from Sharktooth Hill to be Auctioned at Bonhams & Butterfields in December

Bonhams & Butterfields, will hold its annual holiday auction of Natural History on December 12, 2010. The sale will feature a diverse group of distinctive and high quality mineral specimens, exceptional fossils, gold nuggets and unusual jewelry including a selection of “phenomenal” gems as well as lapidary works of art.

Leading the fossil section of the sale are more than 35 lots from the famed “Sharktooth Hill” locality, east of Bakersfield, California. The locality has provided paleontologists with one of the single largest assemblages of Middle Miocene marine vertebrate animal fossils in the world. The “Sharktooth Hill” area represents one of the most fossil-rich Miocene marine bone beds in the world, where roughly 125 species of sharks, bony fishes, sea mammals, sea turtles, marine crocodiles, birds and even land mammals have been found. As the great La Brea discoveries in Los Angeles represent the Pleistocene period, the Sharktooth Hill bonebed offers a surprisingly complete view of the marine Miocene world. It is certainly one of the most famous vertebrate fossil sites in the world.

Examples of note will include a superb male Allodesmus skeleton and skull (est. $120,000 – 150,000). The huge pinniped – a Miocene ancestor of modern sea lions – lived in the North Pacific Ocean 15 – 10 million years ago. An additional, nearly complete, articulated skeleton in matrix of Allodesmus (same genus as above) will also be offered during the December sale (est. $100,000 – 125,000).

Additional highlights on offer a spectacular Turtle Skeleton (est. $50,000 -65,000); a whale skeleton ($30,000 – 40,000) and skull (est. $10,000 – 15,000); a skull and bones from a Dugong ($17,500 – 22,500). Dugongs, together with manatees, are known as “sea cows,” from the order, Sirenia and named for the mythical sea sirens. They are probably the first mammals to return to the marine environment.

The collection also includes numerous lots of Desmostylus teeth (from an extinct hippopotamus-like marine animal) and megalodon teeth, from the largest shark species that ever lived (estimates range from $600 – 3,000).

California jewelry and gemstones are prominently featured in this auction. Naomi Hinds, noted jewelry artist whose works have been featured in Bonhams’ Natural History auctions before, has created a unique necklace composed of 18 California abalone pearls, accented with San Diego County pink and green tourmalines from the Himalaya Mine as well as Oregon purple chalcedony. This is perhaps the largest collection of these rare pearls which has ever been employed in a single statement piece. Her work features a unique style of woven sterling silver and a fluid and organic quality. This unique object of adornment is estimated to bring $12,000-15,000.

Also included is a single-strand necklace composed of Big Sur nephrite jade beads estimated to bring $800-1,200 as well as several pendants featuring native California stones including fossil whale bone, rhodonite, poppy jasper, nephrite and garnet with estimates from $250 upwards.

A selection of pieces by California woodworking artist Mark Doolittle, whose works have been successfully sold at Bonhams, and all of which exhibit a “natural theme” are also featured within the December sale. Items of note include an ammonite and sculpted wood clock (est. $2,500-3,500) and a carved wooden sculpture entitled “Sea Fan” (est. $3,500-4,500).

Additional works of note from the California section of the sale include a single unmounted abalone pearl found off the coastal waters of northern California near Fort Bragg (est. 1,500-2,000); a gold specimen from the Eagle’s Nest Mine, from the well-known mineral Collection of Clara and Steve Smale (est. $4,000-6,000); and a variety of California tourmalines highlighted by a “gem tree,” fabricated circa 1978 and made of San Diego Pink Tourmaline from the no-longer-operative Pala Mine. The noted “gem tree” graced the entrance to the offices of the mine for many years until it was purchased by its present owner (est. 15,000-25,000).

Other examples of natural wonders from the state of California include a sphere carved of jasper from King’s Canyon, San Luis Obispo (est. $2,000-2,500). The unusual specimen measures 7-inches in diameter and is distinguishable by its bright ochre, white and brown hues and fine polish. A vintage specimen from a collecting area that is now closed for mining, the sphere is a rare specimen for the collector.

Preview: December 10-12, Los Angeles

Auction: December 12, 2010, Los Angeles

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