Big bone sale in Dallas

June 11, 2011

Big bones.  Big sale.

Heritage Auction's triceratops, for Jun 12, 2011 auction

Triceratops welcomes bidders and gawkers to the Heritage Auction sale of fossils, gems, meteorites, and other national history ephemera. HA estimates this nearly-complete triceratops, mounted, to be worth about $700,000; less than 24 hours before the live auction, it has an online bid of $500,000 already.

Heritage Auctions set up a bug bunch of fossils, gems, meteorites, taxidermy, and art work from natural materials, for an auction on Sunday, June 12, 2011.

2011 June Dallas Signature Platinum Natural History Auction – Dallas, TX.  Auction #6061.

I can’t afford to bid, but they let me in to get photos.  Nice people.

Heritage Auctions' June special, a triceratops - IMGP6882 photo by Ed Darrell; use permitted with attribution

Heritage Auctions' June special, a triceratops - photo by Ed Darrell; use permitted with attribution

The triceratops greets visitors and bidders at the display site, the Tower Building at Dallas’s art deco gem, Fair Park.  (If you look at the ceiling above the triceratops, you can see where restorers have stripped away several layers of paint to reveal the original ceiling paintings — original artwork, including murals, was painted over in the years following the dramatic debut of the buildings; restoration work proceeds slowly because of lack of funding.)

Triceratops horridus
Hell Creek formation, Harding County, South Dakota

Researchers dug this particular specimen out of the ground in 2004.  HA’s description just makes one’s science juices flow:

Triceratops has enjoyed much cultural publicity ever since its discovery. It is an iconic dinosaur that has appeared in movies ranging from black and white cinema to modern movies like “Jurassic Park.” It has also been in cartoons, such as the children’s classic “The Land before Time.” Triceratops is also the official state fossil of South Dakota and the official state dinosaur of Wyoming.

The present specimen was discovered in 2004 in two parts: First, the fossil hunters came upon pieces of dinosaur bone eroding down a gully. Following these bone fragments, they eventually came upon large bones that would indicate the presence of a large Ceratopsian dinosaur. While this large mass of bones was being excavated, other members of the team followed another bone trail which led them to an amazingly well preserved skull 750 feet away from the original discovery. Over the course of months, the specimens were carefully excavated in large blocks; each specimen was covered in plaster jackets and removed from the field to the lab. It was only during preparation that they discovered the dinosaur was a Triceratops, and it happened to be a Triceratops with an incredibly complete skull. The bones and skull were carefully removed from their field jackets and prepared using hand tools. Broken bones were professionally repaired and restored while a few missing elements were cast from other Triceratops skeletons. A custom made mount was created to support the bones and the skull; innovative bracket mounts were crafted for each bone so that no bones had to be damaged in order to mount them. The bones were mounted in osteologically correct position; making it comparable to and possibly surpassing the accuracy of older mounts in museum displays. Though it is impossible to say whether or not the skull is original to the specimen, being discovered 750 feet apart, it is certainly possible that the two elements are associated for a number of reasons: first, the size of the skull is consistent with the proportional size dimensions of the skeleton, and second, the surrounding matrix (host rock) was identical in composition.

The completed skeleton is enormous; measuring 19 feet long from head to tail, 11 feet across, and towering 12 feet tall. The skull itself measures 7 feet long with 3 ½ foot long horns; placing it near the top of the size range for Triceratops skulls. The leg bones stand 10 feet tall from toes to the top of the scapula; dwarfing many other Triceratops skeletons. Given that the skull represents about 30% of a dinosaur’s entire skeleton, the present specimen is about 75% original bone, with the right leg, pelvic region, several cervical vertebrae and a few tail vertebrae being cast reproductions.

Who owns the thing?  Who put it together?   Who is losing the specimen, should it go to a private collection (you got a living room that big?), and which museum really wants it?

But that’s just one of the specimens up for sale at this auction, and not necessarily the best.  Also up for bid:  A stegosaurus, and an allosaurus, posed as a “fighting pair.”

Fighting pair - allosaurus and stegosaurus, from Heritage Auctions' June 12, 2011 sale of fossils IMGP6839 - photo copyright by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution

The "fighting pair," an allosaurus (left) and stegosaurus (right) posed in combat positions. Photo by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution.

If it sells, the stegosaurus will cost a lucky bidder more than $1 million.  The allosaurus requires $1.6 million.

Am I jaded?  On the one hand you can’t look at these specimens without thinking they deserve to be seen by kids, and adults, and studied by paleontologists and biologist of all stripes — and so who has the right to sell these off?  On the other hand, this is a Second Gilded Age, and the search for prize fossil specimens is often financed by the proceeds from these auctions.  I enjoyed an hour’s browsing and photographing — a slide presentation on the wonders of America for some sleepy class next fall.

How many of these specimens will I get a chance to see again in the future?

Or, Dear Reader, how many of these will you ever get a chance to see?

HA will sell a lot more than just a few dinosaur fossils.  This same sale includes the largest shark jawbone ever found, stuffed Kodiak and polar bears (from the same hunter), gems, art from petrified wood and fossilized fish, and a large selection of meteorites, including the only meteoroid ever confirmed to have struck and killed a living creature (a cow in Argentine; you can’t toss a stone without hitting a cow in Argentina, I hear).

Giant shark jaw for Heritage Auctions' June 2011 sale

Requires a large wall and high ceilings to display

I don’t plan to go bid; there’s about an hour remaining for online bidding tonight, but if you’re interested and you’ve got your income tax refund burning a hole in your pocket, you can also bid by telephone and hotlink on the internet (go to the Heritage Auction site for details).   Frankly, I don’t think the sale will get the attention it deserves.  I hope these spectacular specimens will land where they can get  a great, admiring and studious audience.

Texas State Dinosaur an affront to creationists

October 22, 2009

Texas has a new State Dinosaur.

Scientists are working to make a good model of the beast for the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, as reported in the October 6 Fort Worth Star-Telegram (often referred to locally as the “Startle-gram,” but still one of America’s good-to-great newspapers).  David Casstevens reported:

The official state dinosaur would look big even inside Cowboys Stadium.

The creature stood 15 feet tall at the shoulders.

Sixty feet long, head to tail, it weighed 20 tons or more.

Sadly, despite being native to Texas, the species lived and died without ever tasting brisket.

“It was a herbivore,” paleontologist Dale Winkler said.

The quadrupedal sauropod — sort of a giant prehistoric giraffe — was the state’s first vegetarian.

Winkler, an SMU professor, stood with several other men around a workbench inside a building west of Azle, arms folded, their eyes studiously fixed on a rare and wondrous object, the skull that once contained the very small brain of Paluxysaurus jonesi.

They are members of a team that is meticulously reconstructing the dinosaur’s framework.

An articulated skeleton of the beast, which roamed this part of the country more than 100 million years ago, will become the centerpiece of DinoLabs, a dinosaur exhibit at the new $80 million Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, which opens Nov. 20.

Texas is the ample belly of the nation’s Bible Belt, don’t you know.  Creationists could not let such science endeavors proceed without their version of a blessing, provided in this case by a letter to the editor by a local guy named Richard Hollerman:

Unwarranted assumptions

David Casstevens’ Oct. 6 story tells of work to restore a dinosaur, Paluxysaurus jonesi, that will soon have its place in the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. (See: “Dinosaur skeleton to lead exhibit”)

Thousands of professing Christians, including scientists with advanced degrees, deny basic elements of his account and views held by unbelieving paleontologists. (1) Consistent Christians believe God created dinosaurs relatively recently — about 6,000 years ago — whereas skeptical scientists assert they lived 100 million years ago. (2) Christians contend that dinosaurs were created as dinosaurs instead of evolving from prehistoric life that spontaneously sprang from nonlife 3 billion years ago. (3) Consistent Christians believe that dinosaurs became extinct after the worldwide Noaic flood 4,500 years ago.

We totally reject the unfounded assertion that this dinosaur “roamed this part of the country more than 100 million years ago” — as the reporter asserts. The discerning reader can verify this by consulting the Institute for Creation Research (, Answers in Genesis (, Apologetics Press ( and others showing the fallacy of the evolution model and reasonableness of recent creation, along with the creation and extinction of dinosaurs.

I encourage the Star-Telegram to report these findings in a way that harmonizes with established facts instead of blindly accepting unfounded assertions by unbelieving paleontologists.

— Richard Hollerman, Richland Hills

You should be impressed that so many other local residents have differing views.  The newspaper published several letters in response to Hollerman, on October 17:

Good science vs. non-science

After reading Richard Hollerman’s Oct. 14 letter, “Unwarranted assumptions,” I gather that he believes that only atheist scientists think that dinosaur fossils are millions of years old.

That is incorrect. The vast majority of scientists, regardless of religious beliefs, think that the evidence is overwhelming that dinosaur fossils are millions of years old. If he needs some examples of scientists who are Christian, specifically evangelical Christians, I would point out Mary Schweitzer, Keith Miller, Francis Collins, Richard G. Colling and Stephen J. Godfrey, who are biologists and paleontologists and are also evangelical Christians. Were it not for space limitations I could list thousands more.

This is not about belief vs. disbelief. It is about good science vs. non-science.

— Bill Robinson, Arlington

Hollerman and “thousands of professing Christians” have declared that their religious beliefs trump science, and they have a constitutional right to their notions. On top of that, they also have their churches, family units, private schools, home schooling, colleges that teach pseudo-science and the amazing Creation Museums in which Noah built a third tier on the “ark” to keep dinosaurs at a respectful distance. Fine.

Those of us who do not share the beliefs of “thousands” ask only that you use the aforementioned resources to educate your young, accustom yourselves to the thought of life in a Third World country and leave the rest of us alone!

— Jackie Bell, River Oaks

According to creationists, science is correct about the following:

Chemistry, computer science, mathematics, engineering, sociology, systems science, psychology, medicine, nuclear science, agronomy, astronomy, nanotechnology, acoustics, biophysics, condensed matter physics, electronics, fluid dynamics, geophysics, plasma physics, vehicle dynamics, solar astronomy, meteorology, limnology, soil science, toxicology, marine biology, parasitology, anatomy, biochemistry, structural biology, entomology, cetology, phylogeny, algebra, calculus, cartography, geopolitics, criminology, agriculture, language engineering, pathology, pediatrics, nutrition, physical therapy and dermatology.

But for some reason, according to creationists, science is wrong about evolution. How is that even possible?

— Mark Stevens, Fort Worth

Millions of professing Christians, including intelligent people from all religions and all walks of life, view the basic elements of paleontology as reasonable and logical. (1) Bones found in the different layers of soil show a chronological time line extending much further than 6,000 years ago. (2) Evolution is an observable, rational concept that is ongoing even in today’s “educated” world. (3) Claims that dinosaurs became extinct in a worldwide flood 4,500 years ago are laughable.

Uneducated Christians contend that dinosaurs became extinct in the Noaic flood, yet if you read the Bible it says Noah took two of every animal into the ark to preserve the different species. Did he overlook dinosaurs? Were they deemed unfit to survive by God?

Being raised as a Southern Baptist, I was taught that God guided evolution to fit His plan. Even the most devout Christians in my church had enough intelligence to see the facts that were right before their eyes. I encourage Star-Telegram readers to open their minds and their eyes to prevent the corruption of future generations and find a way to harmonize their beliefs with established facts instead of blindly accepting unfounded fantasies from uneducated Christians.

— Terry Brennan, Haltom City

I sat in total amazement after reading Hollerman’s letter disagreeing with the history of the Paluxysaurusjonesi. To cite Genesis as a historical reference is almost laughable, except for the fact that there are people who honestly believe the Adam and Eve story of creation. To believe that humans lived in this form, only with less clothing, millions of years ago is incredulous to say the least.

I give thanks that there is a science that disproves these myths. Why can’t these folks see the divine spirit in the creation and evolution of life forms on our planet, rather than actually believing what is in the Bible literally? I find it exciting that there are higher forms of being, and that new knowledge is being revealed every moment of every day.

— Betsy Stell, Arlington

I don’t know whom Hollerman was referring to in his letter when he wrote about “Consistent Christians.” I guess he means “fundamentalists” since they’re the only ones who believe in Bronze Age myths rather than modern science. Or perhaps he means people who believe the pseudo-science in the silly, anti-evolution Christian fundamentalist Web sites he cited.

The truth, of course, is that every scientific discipline from archeology to zoology contributes to the vast body of knowledge and huge amount of evidence supporting evolution. Thanks, Star-Telegram, for publishing facts and not allegorical stories written by Middle Eastern tribesmen thousands of years ago.

— Terry McDonald, Grapevine

I was impressed by the Star-Telegram’s reporting on the restoration of the fossil Paluxysaurus jonesi by the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. The article gave the facts and some feel-good information about the people involved in the reconstruction of the dino fossil.

However, Hollerman’s letter would be a joke if it weren’t for the fact that so many people really do think that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and will deny the fact that the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. It has been proven by scientific method.

Creationists have a distorted view because the one book that they use (written 2,000 years ago by primitives) disagrees with the science that proves the existence of natural history. The age of this fossil is not unfounded but rests on the work of many thousands of scientists over a couple of hundred years in scores of different scientific disciples. The scientific method that is used to vet new and existing research is a crucible that is used to sort facts from fallacy and has been used to debunk fake, false and misleading science for a couple of hundred years.

We would still be living in caves without the scientific and technological advances that we enjoy today. I applaud the Star-Telegram for its fair and unbiased science reporting. Keep it up.

— Charlie Rodriguez, Arlington

Meanwhile, e-mails between members of Texas Citizens for Science chase another interesting facet:  Where in Texas is there enough Jurassic rock to support such a find?

Oh, those scientists!

More information:

Tip of the old scrub brush to Annette Carlisle, a member of Texas Citizens for Science.

Cast away a note in a bottle, in the Paluxy River:

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

We become the ephemera of history: ‘Only the privileged few of us get to be fossils’

October 21, 2009

From “Whose father was he?” a four-part essay on tracking down the story of three children whose photograph was discovered on the corpse of a Union soldier killed at the Battle of Gettysburg, in 1863:

Perhaps more than any other artifact, the photograph has engaged our thoughts about time and eternity. I say “perhaps,” because the history of photography spans less than 200 years. How many of us have been “immortalized” in a newspaper, a book or a painting vs. how many of us have appeared in a photograph [32]? The Mayas linked their culture to the movements of celestial objects. The ebb and flow of kingdoms and civilizations in the periodicities of the moon, the sun and the planets. In the glyphs that adorn their temples they recorded coronations, birth, deaths. Likewise, the photograph records part of our history. And expresses some of our ideas about time. The idea that we can make the past present.

The photograph of Amos Humiston’s three children — of Frank, Alice and Fred — allows us to imagine that we have grasped something both unique and universal. It suggests that the experience of this vast, unthinkable war can be reduced to the life and death of one man — by identifying Gettysburg’s “Unknown Soldier” we can reunite a family. That we can be saved from oblivion by an image that reaches and touches people, that communicates something undying and transcendent about each one of us.

And the footnote, number 32:

[32] I had an opportunity to visit the fossil collections at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. It was part of a dinosaur fossil-hunting trip with Jack Horner, the premier hunter of T-Rex skeletons. Downstairs in the lab, there was a Triceratops skull sitting on a table. I picked it up and inserted my finger into the brain cavity. (I had read all these stories about how small the Triceratops brain had to have been and I wanted to see for myself.) I said to Jack Horner, “To think that someday somebody will do that with my skull.” And he said, “You should be so lucky. It’s only the privileged few of us who get to be fossils.”

See Errol Morris’s whole series, “Whose father was he?” at the New York Times blogs:

  • Whose Father Was He? (Part Five)
  • Whose Father Was He? (Part Four)
  • Whose Father Was He? (Part Three)
  • Whose Father Was He? (Part Two)
  • Whose Father Was He? (Part One)

  • Bathtub reading on a warm June Sunday

    June 7, 2009

    I thought everybody does serious reading in the bathtub, no?

    The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, Arizona; the Pima Air & Space Museum now offers bus tours of the 309th Maintenance and Regeneration Groups collection of scrapped and very historic airplanes

    The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, Arizona; the Pima Air & Space Museum now offers bus tours of the 309th Maintenance and Regeneration Group's collection of scrapped and very historic airplanes

    Can’t soak all day.

    Ida, our only Darwinius masillae: Are we a lemur’s nephews and neices?

    May 22, 2009

    She’s being called Ida (EE-duh, to the Brits, EYE-duh to Bob Wills fans).  How could you miss all the hype about her unveiling this week?

    Science fans complain that the hype might be over done.  Creationists appear a bit panicked by the developments.

    Ida herself?  She’s beautiful.  Here’s an interview with Michael Novacek from the American Museum of Natural History in New York, carried on the public television news program World Focus.

    Here’s a collection of British television stories on Ida, including David Attenborough’s animation of the reconstruction of her skeleton — some great graphics:

    See also:

    Great discoveries at Four Stone Hearth 65

    April 27, 2009

    Okay, now Four Stone Hearth can apply for Social Security.  It has come of age.

    Seriously, FSH 65, hosted by Primate of Modern Aspect, continues the tradition of that particular carnival with great links to great research, in anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics.

    Hobbits?  Chimps?  Linguistics? Brains?   It’s all there.  Go see.

    Found, another missing link: Primitive feathers

    January 13, 2009

    Creationists must be brave indeed — or foolish, or non-comprehending — to steam on in the face of almost daily science discoveries.

    Some discoveries are bigger than others.  Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science has a good, lay explanation of a recent paper documenting the discovery of a fossil with ancient, simple feathers –– a step in the evolution of feathers that was predicted but had not before been confirmed by fossils.

    Until now, their existence was merely hypothetical – this is the first time that any have actually been found in a fossil. Other, more advanced stages in feather evolution have been described, so Beipaiosaurus provides the final piece in a series of structures that takes us from simple filaments to the more advanced feathers of other dinosaurs to the complex quills that keep modern birds aloft.


    The simple feathers were discovered by Xu Xing, the famous Chinese palaeontologist who discovered such species as Microraptor and Dilong, among many others. The filaments are longer and broader than those possessed by other dinosaurs and Xu calls them “elongated, broad, filamentous feathers” or EBFFs.

    Each is about 10-15cm long and 2mm wide – not exactly thick, but still 10-20 times broader than the simple feathers of Sinosauropteryx. They are also unusually stiff, for despite the rigours of death and fossilisation, very few of them are curved or bent.

    In other species of extinct dinosaur, simple feathers probably helped to insulate their bodies. But Beipaiosaurus’s feathers were too patchily distributed to have provided much in the way of insulation and they certainly weren’t complex enough for flight.

    Instead, Xu thinks that the animal used them for display – their length and stiffness are well-suited for such a purpose, and they’re only found on parts of the body that bear display feathers in modern birds. They provide strong evidence that feathers were used for display long before they were co-opted for flight.

    So, what’s that?  243,694 “missing links,” now found?  243,694 for science, 0 for creationism.  Isn’t there a five-inning rule in science?

    It will be interesting to watch the next round of hearings at the Texas State Board of Education, to see what sort of excuse creationists will invent for why this chunk of science isn’t exactly what it seems to be.

    %d bloggers like this: