Ancient Bones and Millionaires: Dinosaurs For Sale in Manhattan

The New York City branch of Bonhams auction house hosted an eye-popping and widely hyped dinosaur auction in the city yesterday afternoon. At the center were the so-called "Montana Dueling Dinosaurs," a huge, combined fossil of two nearly-complete dinosaur skeletons apparently caught fighting to the death, valued as high as $9 million dollars.

While the dinos ultimately did not sell—the bids reached a mere $5.5 million, below the minimum bid required for purchase—Gizmodo got to chat with its current owners and walk around amidst some fantastic fossils.

Ancient Bones and Millionaires: Dinosaurs For Sale in Manhattan

The Montana Dueling Dinosaurs

Clayton Phipps is a Montana ranch hand turned amateur paleontologist who has earned the nickname "Dinosaur Cowboy." In 2006, Phipps discovered the battling dinosaur fossils on Mary Ann & Lige Murray's 25,000 acre ranch near his home in Jordan, Montana.

The fossil's discovery, the controversy over whether it demonstrates a new species, and the argument over whether it should have been offered to a museum or scientific foundation rather than to private collectors, all make for fascinating reading. In a brief chat with Gizmodo, Phipps said that he and his brothers started out simply looking for arrowheads as kids while working long days on the ranch. As he grew up, Phipps' interest turned to dinosaur fossils, which are regularly found across Montana and the Dakota plains.

Now it's a family affair. Lige Murray, owner of the ranch where the Dueling Dinosaurs were found and Phipps' partner in selling the artifact, said Phipps' six-year-old son is already competing with his father when they go fossil searching. "You'll look up and he'll be clear across on the next hilltop."

"He's pretty competitive," Phipps adds. "He doesn't like it when I find a fossil before he does." While dinosaur hunting sounds like a kid's dream come true, Phipps says his son is businesslike about it. "He grew up with it. He doesn't know any other way."

Ancient Bones and Millionaires: Dinosaurs For Sale in Manhattan

This 95%-complete Triceratops skull was discovered by Jason Phipps, Clayton's brother. These guys have a knack for fossil finding.

Phipps and Murray ended up disappointed by the auction: the maximum bid on Dueling Dinosaurs was $5.5 million, substantially lower than the reserve price. The fossil remained unsold. This became something of a theme for the day—bidding was tepid across the board, and most items at the auction did not end up selling.

Ancient Bones and Millionaires: Dinosaurs For Sale in Manhattan

This mounted Triceratops skeleton, valued at $700,000-900,000, remained unsold, with bidding topping out at $500,000.

Ancient Bones and Millionaires: Dinosaurs For Sale in Manhattan

This Tyrannosaurus rex, valued at up to $2.2 million, also didn't sell.

Still, the auction offered us a chance to ogle some seriously cool bones, something we at Gizmodo will never turn down.

Ancient Bones and Millionaires: Dinosaurs For Sale in Manhattan

Ceratosaurus nasicornis skull. Check out that gnarly horn!

The crowd at the event was fascinating in its own right: professorial baby boomers, wily prospectors, impeccably-dressed collectors. Phipps wore a rancher's vest, neckerchief, and black cowboy hat, while Murray resembled a six-foot-five J.R. Ewing. A boy who couldn't have been over eight years old paged through the program with his mom, pointing out artifacts and naming species as nonchalantly as if he was reading the kid's menu at Applebee's.

Ancient Bones and Millionaires: Dinosaurs For Sale in Manhattan

A duck-billed Edmontosaurus annectens skull.

Ancient Bones and Millionaires: Dinosaurs For Sale in Manhattan

This beady-eyed Thescelosaurus could have been yours for half a million dollars.

Ancient Bones and Millionaires: Dinosaurs For Sale in Manhattan

A strangely picturesque Eocene turtle and fossilized fish.

Ancient Bones and Millionaires: Dinosaurs For Sale in Manhattan

Juvenile Tenontosaurus. Obviously up to no good.

Not everything at the auction was ancient—these modern skeletons served as a reminder that distant dinosaur ancestors still roam the earth.

Ancient Bones and Millionaires: Dinosaurs For Sale in Manhattan

This modern alligator skeleton was stunningly mounted to look like it's swimming through the room.

Ancient Bones and Millionaires: Dinosaurs For Sale in Manhattan

Adult male emu with two chicks.

Ancient Bones and Millionaires: Dinosaurs For Sale in Manhattan

Emu chick hatching.

Many thanks to Bonhams for allowing us to join in the fun—and feel free to download the full catalog yourself (PDF) from Bonhams site to ogle some dinos on your own.