Sotheby’s Natural History Auction: Fearsome Predators from the Past

Intriguing and awe-inspiring, Sotheby’s recently announced a captivating auction this July, featuring the remarkable fossil skeletons of two formidable predators that once ruled the air and sea during the age of the dinosaurs.

The Pteranodon and the Plesiosaur, both dating back to the late Cretaceous and lower Jurassic periods respectively, will take centre stage at Sotheby’s Natural History auction on 26 July. This event is part of the esteemed annual Geek Week series of sales, a celebration of scientific history, technological advancements, space exploration, and the natural world, spanning from 18 to 27 July.

Sotheby’s Making History: Pteranodon and Plesiosaur Take the Stage

The Pteranodon, a majestic creature belonging to the family of Pterosaurs, takes flight as a captivating symbol of prehistoric life. These flying reptiles held dominance over the skies during the Mesozoic Era, outperforming even the feathered dinosaurs and birds. Sadly, their reign came to an end around 66 million years ago, coinciding with the extinction event marking the conclusion of the Cretaceous Period.

Sotheby's Natural History Auction: Fearsome Predators from the Past

Famous for its appearances in blockbuster franchises such as Godzilla and Jurassic Park, the Pteranodon continues to capture the imagination of audiences worldwide. Its impressive size and unique characteristics have made it an enduring icon.

Moreover, the Plesiosaur, with its mysterious allure, has contributed to the collective fascination surrounding prehistoric creatures. Notably, the silhouette of the legendary Loch Ness monster is believed to have been inspired by the Plesiosaur, as immortalized in Robert Wilson’s infamous 1934 photograph.

Following the success of last year’s groundbreaking sales, including the first-ever Gorgosaurus skeleton in July and a standalone Tyrannosaurus rex skull in December, Sotheby’s continues to make history in the realm of Natural History auctions. The upcoming sale of the Pteranodon and Plesiosaur skeletons represents a significant addition to Sotheby’s impressive track record.

Notably, Sotheby’s made headlines in 1997 with the groundbreaking auction of Sue the T. rex, the first dinosaur to be sold at auction. Exhibited at Sotheby’s New York from 21 June onwards, the Pteranodon and Plesiosaur skeletons will offer a mesmerizing glimpse into the distant past, uniting geological epochs in a breathtaking display.

Horus: The Majestic Pteranodon

The star of the show is undeniably the monumental Pteranodon skeleton named “Horus,” paying homage to the ancient Egyptian deity associated with kingship, protection, and the sky. “Horus” stands as one of the largest and best-preserved Pteranodons ever discovered, boasting an estimated value of $4 – 6 million. With a wingspan of approximately 20 feet, “Horus” represents a fully mature adult male, showcased in flight with outstretched wings. The skeleton is meticulously mounted on a custom armature, designed for ceiling suspension.

This extraordinary specimen offers an exceptional level of authenticity, with nearly all of the original fossil bones remaining essentially untouched. The absence of artificial fillers or reconstructions ensures the integrity of the scientific research conducted on the specimen. However, the skull required accurate and aesthetically pleasing restoration using 3D techniques. Any missing bones were replaced with high-resolution 3D printed elements, carefully mirrored from the original specimen.

Sotheby's Natural History Auction: Fearsome Predators from the Past
Horus “King of the Skies”
Pteranodon longiceps 
Late Cretaceous (Approximately 85 million years ago) 
Smoky Hill Chalk Member (Upper Section) Niobrara Formation
Logan County, Kansas
Estimate $4 – 6 Million

Belonging to the Pterosaur family, Pteranodons soared through the skies during the Mesozoic Era, rarely venturing back to land. They traversed vast distances over the ocean, feeding far from shore and posing little threat to terrestrial carnivores. With their remarkable size and toothless beaks, Pteranodons employed plunge diving and dipping techniques to hunt aquatic prey. Powered by strong wings composed of skin, muscle, and pycnofibers, they utilized their elongated fourth finger, known as the wing finger, to take to the skies.

This particular Pteranodon skeleton was discovered in what was once the Western Interior Seaway, an ancient inland sea dividing North America into two landmasses during the Cretaceous Period. The location of the skeleton suggests that it met its demise at sea, possibly while hunting for food. Preserved for approximately 85 million years in the Smoky Hill Chalk Member of the Niobrara Formation, this fossilized treasure serves as a remarkable window into our planet’s past.

“Nessie”: The Enigmatic Plesiosaur

Adding to the allure of the Natural History auction is an exquisite Plesiosaur skeleton affectionately known as “Nessie.” This rare specimen, measuring nearly 11 feet in length, is an exceptionally well-preserved example of its kind. Unearthed in the Blockley Quarry in Gloucestershire, England, during the 1990s, “Nessie” takes the spotlight as the most valuable Plesiosaur skeleton ever to be offered at auction. Its estimated value ranges from $600,000 to $800,000.

Plesiosaurs, a diverse family of aquatic reptiles, mastered life in the open seas. Thriving from the Triassic to the end of the Cretaceous Period, they coexisted with dinosaurs and ultimately faced extinction around 65 million years ago. Their distinctive body design set them apart from other marine creatures. With compact heads housing numerous menacing, pointed teeth and long, snake-like necks, Plesiosaurs possessed remarkable swimming capabilities, aided by their powerful flippers.

Contrary to their elongated necks, their tails were relatively short. Recent research suggests that Plesiosaurs were swift and agile predators, likely feeding on fish, squid, and other small prey. In a remarkable discovery, one Late Cretaceous specimen found in Kansas preserved fetal offspring in its body cavity, indicating viviparity (live birth) rather than egg-laying.

Sotheby's Natural History Auction: Fearsome Predators from the Past
“Nessie” – Mounted Plesiosaur Skeleton
Plesiosaur Cryptoclidus sp. (likely C. eurymerus)
Lower Jurassic Lower Lias (Approximately 190 million years ago) 
Blockley Quarry, Blockley, Gloucestershire, England 
Estimate $600,000 – 800,000

The trailblazing palaeontologist Mary Anning, whose fascinating life inspired the film Ammonite, made history in 1823 when she discovered the first Plesiosaur skeleton along England’s renowned Jurassic Coast in Lyme Regis. The find ignited significant debate due to the reptile’s unique appearance and ultimately inspired geologist Thomas Hawkins to publish the influential Book of the Great Sea Dragons in 1840. Anning’s discoveries, including her Plesiosaur, are showcased at the Natural History Museum in London and the American Museum of Natural History in New York, among other prestigious institutions.

The legend of the Loch Ness monster, deeply rooted in Scottish folklore, entwines with the history of the Plesiosaur. Morphological comparisons between the Plesiosaur and the enigmatic “Nessie” have been drawn for centuries. Sightings of the monster, documented since the sixth century, notably increased following Anning’s discoveries in the early 19th century. The Loch Ness monster, often described as having a long neck, small head, and four flippers, bears a striking resemblance to the Plesiosaur.

Furthermore, Plesiosaur remains have been found in ancient riverbeds, suggesting that some species could thrive in freshwater environments like Loch Ness. Regardless of the veracity of the Loch Ness monster, the legend has fostered ongoing exploration and a deepened understanding of Plesiosaurs and prehistory.

Sotheby’s Natural History auction promises an extraordinary journey into the past, unveiling the captivating world of these legendary air and sea predators. With the Pteranodon and Plesiosaur taking centre stage, the auction represents a unique opportunity to acquire these exceptional specimens and forever be connected to the age of the dinosaurs.

Images: Sotheby’s

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