The New York auction house Bonhams hoped to set a world record Tuesday for the sale of a fossil—a controversial specimen containing two dinosaurs. But despite a public bidding war, the final offer of $5.5 million failed to meet the seller’s minimum price, which was somewhere between $5.5 and $7 million. So Bonhams pulled its prize specimen from the auction block.
The specimen, found on a Montana ranch in 2006, includes two dinosaurs: a member of the Ceratopsidae family that may be a new species and a member of the Tyrannosauridae family that could settle a long-standing debate about juvenile and adult tyrannids. The finders dubbed the specimen “The Dueling Dinosaurs” because the animals were found touching one another and seemed to bear marks of mortal combat, such as missing teeth and shattered chest bones. But some paleontologists say that the skeletons may simply have come to rest side by side and even intermingled with each other after death.
All the same, paleontologists say the specimen likely has scientific value, and today’s failed attempt to sell it is the latest chapter in a long and bitter controversy over its fate. Many paleontologists fear that owner Clayton Phipps, a commercial fossil hunter from Montana, will sell to a private collector who may not allow detailed scientific study. If that happens, “then someone might as well walk up to it with a sledgehammer and turn it to dust,” says paleontologist Thomas Carr of Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin.