Recently, it was announced that a rare aspiration (a fossil immortalising an animal in the act of choking on its prey) could sell for up to $250,000 at Heritage Auctions.
The fossil in question features a juvenile Sclerocephalus haeuseri, a mildly unpleasant looking amphibian. It is exceptional, however, as it is the only aspiration featuring an amphibian ever discovered.
When it comes to fossils, the key factors in gauging value are condition and rarity. Getting fossils out of the ground in one piece is no easy business, and the incredible scarcity of museum grade examples means that their value can easily match the enormous sums paid for jewellery or works of art.
They have their own (largely male) celebrity following as well – Nicholas Cage, Harrison Ford and Leonardo Di Caprio are reported to be avid collectors.
So what’s the most expensive fossil ever sold? That would be an almost perfectly preserved T-Rex skeleton (nicknamed Sue) that was unearthed in South Dakota in 1990. It was bought by the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago for $8.3m in 1997.
Fossils that achieve seven figure sums are rare, and tend to be widely reported. In 2011, an Allosaurus and a Stegosaurus locked in a battle to the death sold for $2.7m at Heritage Auction in Dallas to an unnamed museum outside the US.
This November, another pair of fighting dinosaurs, known as the “Montana Duelling Dragons” will highlight a sale at Bonhams New York with an estimate of $7m-9m. The auction house stated in its assessment of the lot: “The fully articulated skeletons show the well-matched foes were locked in mortal combat, each inflicting fatal wounds on the other”.
It will certainly be interesting to see if they can knock Sue off her perch.