This 60 million year old fossil of two dinosaurs locked in combat has scientists eager to take a closer look. The price of that look? Somewhere between $7-9 million dollars. The fossil goes up for auction tomorrow — and could easily end up in the hands of a private collector.

Just who was getting the better of the fight the moment before Mother Nature stepped into settle it once and for all is up for debate: the ceratopsian has a tooth or two embedded in its neck, while the nanotyrannosaur is suffering the ill effects of several kicks to the head (though I think we can all agree that the nanotyrannosaur is winning the battle for cutest fossil hands down.) The winner of the fight, as well as the real identity of the dinosaurs (nanotyrannosaur or just a teenage T. Rex on a rampage?), are questions that scientists will no doubt want to study — and, very likely, never will. "Dueling Dinosaurs" goes up for auction in New York tomorrow. Current estimates are putting the price tag of the fossil at between $7 - 9 million and, at a price like that, the probability that it could end up in the hands of a private collector, and lost to science, is not unlikely.


A cast model of the original positions of the two dinosaurs.

And the problem is not limited to just the dueling dinosaurs themselves, it's also the company they keep. As Brian Switek, writing over at Laelaps reminds us "high-priced fossils rarely go up for auction alone." This one, says Switek, is also accompanied by sales of previously-studied fossils of a giant fish, Xiphactinus, and a partial Chasmosaurus skull:

The loss of such specimens creates a major stumbling block for paleontology. If a previously-studied and published fossil has been deaccessioned and sold off, then the specimen is off limits to researchers who want to take a fresh look or check up on old data. The fossil has to effectively disappear from the literature as it's no longer open to study. It's a matter of reproduciblility. If a fossil like the Xiphactinus skeleton isn't permanently stored and cared for in a museum, then no one can re-examine or check on what has been gleaned from that fossil before.

What do you think about fossils being put up for sale? Give us your take in the comments below.

UPDATE: The Chasmosaurus and Xiphactinus have been withdrawn from the auction. (h/t commenter artiofab)


Images: Seth Wenig / AP Photo.

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