Remarkable 180-Million-Year-Old Ichthyosaurus Leads Bonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr Natural History Sale in Paris

ParisBonhams Cornette de Saint Cyr will hold a second Natural History sale in Paris on 13 December 2022. The sale is led by an exceptional three-dimensional 180-million-year-old Ichthyosaurus Stenopterygius longifrons found in France, which has an estimate of €400,000 to €600,000.

Ichthyosaurs were marine reptiles which existed in the Mesozoic era. Their discovery in England at the beginning of the 19th century and subsequent study by the greatest names of the natural sciences such as Henri de Blainville, Sir Richard Owen and Georges Cuvier has shaped our understanding of the earth's history. Today, most of the major natural history museums have at least one ichthyosaur fossil.

The present specimen is exceptional for its three-dimensional, sculptural mounting on a custom-fitted brass stand (laiton). Discovered in a geological formation containing Toarcian fossils in France, the specimen was excavated in the early 2000s during construction on the high-speed TGV line in Eastern France. This formation was of the same age as the one in Holzmaden, Germany, but the bones were less compressed.

Extraordinary skill and precision not only enabled the extraction of the fossilised bones one by one from its matrix, but also made it possible to rebuild the skeleton in 3D. Only a handful of ichthyosaurs have ever been reconstructed this way. This individual specimen represents more than two years of work by a specialist.

The skull of the specimen shows a wonderful preservation with only few teeth and the sclerotic ring restored. The shoulder girdle is complete and carries the forelimbs composed of original humeri, radius, ulna, metacarpals and 65% of original phalanges. Of the pelvic bones, pubis and ischium are original, and the hind limbs are 100% complete. Professor David Norman, Curator of the Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge, wrote in Bonhams Magazine: "Complete and well-preserved specimens are rarer. Some of the best-known specimens tend to be flattened in mud-rock deposits, so it is quite rare to find an example, like this one, where the skeleton is not only well-represented but the bones are preserved in three dimensions."

Claudia Florian, Consulting Director of Bonhams Natural History Department in Los Angeles, declared: "This skeleton is extremely complete with a total of more than 80% original bones. It is the first time that a complete specimen like this, found in France, will be offered at auction."

Although ichthyosaurs and dolphins are not related, they are similar in physiognomy. Just as dolphins descended from land mammals who adapted to live in the sea, the ancestors of ichthyosaurs were land-dwelling reptiles. Ichthyosaurs were also reminiscent of dolphins in the way they gave birth, underwater, tail first. Many details of their anatomy reveal their extensive adaptation to aquatic life. Most fast-swimming animals have a fusiform body shape, with a tail that serves as a means of propulsion, while the fins serve to manage direction.

The teeth of ichthyosaurs re-grew throughout their life. Different species had differently shaped teeth for targeting smaller or larger prey. Some confronted other large marine reptiles such as plesiosaurs and pleiosaurs, and the largest examples were even cannibalistic.

Species of Stenopterygius had a small skull, extending into a beak, and were equipped with a dorsal fin, a large, semi-circular caudal fin at the end of their tail and fin-like limbs. This species of Ichthyosaur, in particular, has not been studied in depth and there is very little literature on it. The present offering represents a unique and interesting opportunity for scientific research by a museum or private collector.

Among the other highlights of the sale:

Permian shark from Germany, Orthacanthus, Permian, 299-250 Ma, Pflaz, Germany. Orthacanthus is an extinct genus of fresh-water shark from a family of xenacanths. About 260 million years ago, it was the apex predator of freshwater swamps and bayous in Europe and North America. Its body reached nearly 10 feet (3 metres) in length. (Estimate: €40,000-50,000)

Ammolite from Canada, Placenticeras meeki, Late Cretaceous, Bearpaw formation, 75-72 Ma, Alberta, Canada. "Ammolite" is the name given to the colourful Ammonite fossils found in the famous Bear Paw Formation in Southern Alberta, Canada. Their shells underwent a unique fossilization process over 75 million years. This particular specimen shows a matte coating not typically seen on fossils of this type. (Estimate: €5,000 - 7,000).

A large tooth from the most famous and largest shark that ever existed: the megalodon shark. Carcharocles megalodon, Miocene, 15 - 20 Ma, South Carolina, USA. (Estimate: €1,500-2,500).

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