Last night, Sotheby's first natural history sale in Paris was the scene of some extraordinary sales:
A magnificent wall plaque (8ft 1in x 7ft 5in) of a fossilized palm-leaf, Sabalites sp. (Cenozoic Era), discovered at Green River Formation, floated to €120,750 above an estimate of €80,000-100,000 whilst a complete Sphenodiscus Lenticularis ammonite (late Cretaceous Period) from South Dakota, with the opal-like appearance of a precious stone, dazzled one bidder into parting with a triple-estimate €72,750.
Meanwhile a petrified oak 'butterfly' plaque from Oregon (Middle Miocene Period, Juntura region) grew from a listing of €40,000-50,000 all the way to €102,750.
But it was the fossilised skeletons which were most anticipated, and three commanded exceptionally strong prices:
The rare skeleton of a woolly rhinoceros (Rhinoceros Tichorinus) from Siberia, complete with its original horn, was sold to French collector Gérard Reynaud for €96,750. This Ice Age symbol (dating from the Pleistocene Epoch 100,000 years ago) was promptly presented by Monsieur Reynaud to the Institute of Human Paleontology in Paris.
Institute Director Henry de Lumley reacted delightedly, saying "this unique piece [would be] one of the most prestigious additions to our prehistoric collection for a century, and will now be at the disposal of the international scientific community."
A complete skeleton of a Plesiosaurus (Cryptocleidus sp.) reared up above its €370,000 top estimate to €456,750. This aquatic reptile was a swift-moving predator, which some people still believe has been preserved in the form of the Loch Ness Monster.
Few of the skeletons which exist are in private hands, and this example is exceptional as the thorax, tail, neck, limbs and skull are all fully preserved.
Top sale of the night however was that of an Allosaurus skeleton.
The Allosaurus was a theropod, which despite having an uninspiring name ('different lizard', whereas Tyrannosaurus means 'Tyrant lizard') has sometimes been dubbed the 'Jurassic T-Rex,' - genuine T-Rexes lived in the late Cretaceous - and could weigh up to 3 tons.
It was a ferocious carnivore with huge, articulated jaws, lined with some 70 curved teeth, capable of extending horizontally to swallow its prey. Its short front limbs, each with three deadly claws, were used to immobilize its victims and tear off their flesh.
The complete, skeleton of a 33-foot Allosaurus from Wyoming. The carnivorus dinosaur towered above the rest at €1,296,750 - a record in Europe for a dinosaur skeleton. The dimensions of this 70% complete specimen suggest it was a female.
In the words of sale expert Eric Mickeler: "A star is born! The Sotheby's Allosaurus today became part of human history."
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