Money for old bones: Dinosaur fossils become big business

Sotheby's is to auction some of the world's rarest prehistoric relics

She possesses a set of fearsome jaws, is in spectacular condition for her age and would make a striking addition to any drawing room – provided you have one big enough to contain her 33ft-long set of fossilised bones.

Anyone with a seriously large wallet could soon be able to buy this rare, partially complete fossilised skeleton of an Allosaurus, a large carnivorous dinosaur that lived about 150 million years ago and is sometimes referred to as the T. rex of the Jurassic Period – T. rex itself lived much later during a period known as the Cretaceous Period.

The female Allosaurus, discovered in a fossil graveyard in the US state of Wyoming, is one of the prime exhibits going on sale later this year at the French headquarters of Sotheby's in Paris. She is expected to attract huge interest from the growing number of wealthy fossil collectors keen to snap up one of the rarest of dinosaur finds.

Another item on sale is a flying carnivorous reptile with a 35-inch wingspan called Dorygnathus banthesis, displayed in the original black matrix rock it was found in when it was unearthed in 1932 from a site in Holzmaden, Germany. Sotheby's estimates that the oval-skulled pterosaur will fetch €160,000-€250,000 (£145,000-£247,000).

If neither of these beasts takes your fancy, then how about a complete skeleton of a fish-eating Plesiosaurus, a type of primitive marine lizard that lived about 190 million years ago?

It was dug out from a limestone outcrop in Blockley, Gloucestershire, in the early 1990s. Sotheby's says that the 6ft 7in by 9ft 10in skeleton is the best-preserved specimen of a Plesiosaurus to date, meaning it could easily go for more than £300,000. For those who do not like the idea of taking a fearsome carnivore home with them, there is the alternative of bagging a pair of petrified crabs buried suddenly near Vicenza in Italy 45 million years ago.

Alternatively, there is a fossilised palm leaf and accompanying fishes dating from the Eocene Period some 50 million years ago, about 15 million years after the dinosaurs went extinct but before mammals had fully risen to take their place as the dominant, large terrestrial lifeforms.

"Whether you look at them as artistic masterpieces or wonders of nature, dinosaur skeletons, fossils and minerals retrace the saga of evolution, especially that of mighty terrestrial and marine mammals that are now extinct," said Professor Eric Mickeler, a palaeontologist and the expert consultant on the Sotheby's sale.

Whatever the motives of those wanting to own such magnificent specimens, it is clear that collecting and dealing in fossil relics of a prehistoric age is big business, according to Lorraine Cornish, a senior conservator at the Natural History Museum in London, who is involved in the museum's purchases of fossils.

"We try not to buy on the commercial market. For a start we have limited funds, but we also don't particularly want to encourage the sale of fossils that may be dug up without the details of the find being recorded, which would mean the loss of important scientific information," Mrs Cornish said.

"But we have to accept that dealing in fossils is a reality. Some very wealthy people are passionate about the fossils they collect and they want the best, just like some people want the best works of art," she added.

One of the prime fossil exhibits in the Natural History Museum in London is a heavy-clawed dinosaur called Baryonyx walkeri which was unearthed in a clay pit near Dorking in Surrey.

One of its distinctive claws was found sticking out of the ground by William Walker, a local amateur collector, in 1983.

Mr Walker took the claw to the museum, whose experts organised a proper excavation. In return, Mr Walker received replica claws and had the species named after him.

"We try to develop really close relationships with amateur fossil collectors. In that way, if they find something they are likely to bring it and show it to us first," Mrs Cornish said.

In Britain it is perfectly legal to collect and deal in fossils of dinosaurs or other prehistoric animals provided that certain guidelines are met, such as securing the approval of the landowner and getting particular permission from official authorities if the collecting area falls within a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest, which are often established to protect the best fossil deposits.

Although there is no legislation specifically designed with fossils in mind, guidelines dictate that detailed records of the find should be kept and the excavation should be done with sufficient care.

One important site for amphibian fossils near North Berwick, for instance, was entirely removed illegally in a matter of hours by a collector using a mechanical digger.

Some of the most important finds have been made by amateur and professional fossil collectors. One such collector, Stan Wood, unearthed the earliest known fossil reptile near Bathgate in West Lothian.

The eight-inch-long fossil, known as "Lizzie", was later sold to the National Museums of Scotland for £180,000 – considerably less than Mr Wood could have received if he had sold it to foreign collectors, according to Matt Dale, an Edinburgh fossil dealer who now runs Mr Wood's fossil business.

Suggested Topics
News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album