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Rare fossil found near Browning may be auction’s top draw

This nearly complete duckbill dinosaur, found in the spring of 1990 in the Two Medicine Formation, will be sold at a private auction this weekend in Dallas.

Raising concerns about the loss of scientifically significant fossils, a rare juvenile duckbill dinosaur found in the Two Medicine Formation near Browning is the top item at a private auction in Dallas on Sunday.

The second annual Natural History Auction of the Heritage Auction Galleries features more than 390 lots including dinosaurs, the only meteorite known to have killed a living being, a wolf skull dating back to the Ice Age and a piece of the moon.

The item getting the most attention and most likely to bring the highest price and is a nearly complete juvenile duckbill skeleton found in the spring of 1990 on the Agee Ranch. The skeleton has no current online bids, but the auction house hopes it will sell for $240,000 to $300,000.

“That particular specimen is at least a gray-market, if not a black-market specimen,” said David Trexler, a paleontologist with the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center in Bynum. “It could have been a museum exhibit if it had been collected appropriately. The sad thing is that it’s basically a $150,000 lawn ornament.”

Heritage Auction Galleries spokesman Bruce Bobbins said the person who previously owned the skeleton and its discoverer want to remain anonymous.

What the auction house can say about the dinosaur is that it was found in the spring of 1990.

The juvenile was laying on its side near another juvenile Edmontosaurus and a partially complete adult, according to the auction house. Bobbins said auction officials theorize the dinosaur family was crossing a river that suddenly swelled.

Looking at the photo of the duckbill, Trexler suspects it’s a Maiasaura, similar to what was found on Egg Mountain. Maiasaura are the only duckbills with crests on their foreheads, and the level of the formation on the Agee Ranch is from the era when Maiasaura, not Edmontosaurus, roamed Montana, he said.

Trexler said the dinosaur could have been scientifically significant. While many duckbill babies, adults and teenagers have been discovered — several by his family on Egg Mountain — few have been found that are the age and size of the juvenile up for auction.

The 10-foot-long, 5 1/2-foot-wide skeleton was 90 percent complete — another rarity in the paleontology world.

However, because it wasn’t properly excavated, with documentation of where it was found and the environment surrounding it, science can learn little from the fossil, Trexler said.

The lack of documentation also raises concerns that it might have been obtained illegally, he said.

Trexler said the only juvenile duckbill discovery he was aware of during that time period was allegedly stolen off the Blackfeet Reservation. He heard a report of a juvenile duckbill that was 10-feet-long being discovered, but when he went to the site on tribal land, it was gone.

A federal court decision out of South Dakota dictates the ownership of dinosaurs. Basically, anything found on private land belongs to the landowner and anything found on state or federal land can be claimed by a state museum or no one at all.

For example, the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council recently decided to try to sell a 74-million-year-old baby Tyrannosaurus, hoping to stave off budget shortfalls. That specimen has not yet been sold.

The federal court ruling causes many important finds to become worthless because they are either washed away on public lands because there aren’t enough paleontologists or museum resources to collect them, or they are improperly excavated by commercial diggers.

To properly excavate and mount a fossil costs about $350,000, according to Trexler. Museums can afford to pay the costs because the exhibit can cover the expense. To sell any fossil for the price that private collectors are willing to pay means cutting corners during excavation, he said.

But as evident from the fact that no one has placed the minimum $143,000 bid for the juvenile duckbill on the Heritage Auction Galleries Web site, the commercial market for dinosaurs is small.

“Dinosaurs aren’t worth the millions of dollars that people think they are,” Trexler said. “There’s only so much that people can reasonably afford to pay to have something in their living room.”

Reach Tribune Staff Writer Kim Skornogoski at 791-6574, 800-438-6600 or

giugno 7, 2008 - Posted by | - R. Dinosauri, Aste, Commercio illegale, Paleontology / Paleontologia | , ,

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