There's something very humbling about gathering on a shelf the fossils of creatures that thundered across the land or lurked in the depths millions and millions of years ago. These dinosaurs, great and small, inhabited the Earth during the Mesozoic Era, between 250 and 65 million years ago.

Two great cataclysmic events occurred that both ushered in and silenced this Era. We surmise from soil samples above and below the band of rock encasing these great fossils that massive asteroids or comets struck the planet, subsequently killing off the food source of most of the creatures inhabiting our world. Like a sentence from the mouth of God, the dinosaurs grew, lived and died between two devastating quotation marks.

The first dinosaur fossils were discovered and catalogued in 1842 by Richard Owen, who coined the term "dinosaur" -- Latin for "fearfully great lizard". From that time to now, dinosaurs in most cultures have been the most popular animals above all.

Their impressively assembled bones display to us terrible predators and lumbering giants, and although museums receive the majority of fossils unearthed for study and classification, many prehistoric remains are readily available for sale through rock shops, rock shows, individual dealers, and online.

The price of fossils is based on both their rarity as well as the effort involved in extracting them from rock. Once an exposed fossil is discovered, its removal is a slow and tedious process. Many days in the hot, dry climate are spent carefully removing the surrounding rock from the skeletal remains, afterwhich they are covered in plaster of paris for their long trip to a laboratory where further cleaning and preparation are completed.

One of the most popular fossils collected is dinosaur teeth, particularly from meat-eaters. Although those from the infamous and rare Tyrannosaurus Rex are extremely expensive, teeth from other carnivores are relatively reasonable. Value is based on the length of the tooth and its condition. This example is one from a Carcharodontosaurus saharicus found in Morocco and previously known as a Megalosaurus. Carcharodontosaurus (pronounced kar-kar-o-dahn-toe-sore-us) was a carnivore that was larger than and lived before the T. rex -- approximately 100 million years ago. The tooth's length is an above average 3 ¼ inches with nearly complete enamel.

In the beginning of the last decade, a surprisingly large formation containing countless dinosaur eggs had been uncovered in southern China. Most of the find so far are predominantly round eggs, which are from sauropods (4 legged herbifores), rather than elongated eggs from theropods (two-legged carnivores). Hundreds have been imported into the U.S., though China has declared "National Treasure" status on recent finds and are no longer exported.

This egg likely belonged to a hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur which roamed the Earth in large numbers during the Cretaceous period between 141-65 million years ago. Unusually, the outer shell of this one is nearly 95% intact. Prices range based on egg condition and type; the sauropod or hadrosaur eggs sell for between $400 and $900, while the rarer theropod eggs (Tyrannosaurus, etc) are in the thousands in any grade.

Dinosaur bones, particularly identifiable ones bring these animals alive. Skulls are at a significant premium for obvious reasons, but other bones can be quite reasonable. Generally, carnivore remains command higher prices because collectors are more intrigued by their terror, hence higher demand.

This item is the four-piece toe (middle toe of the left foot) of a duck-billed dinosaur called an Edmontosaurus, named after its discovery in Alberta, Canada. This sauropod was alive in the late Cretaceous period, and was likely T. rex's favorite meal. Although the four distinct bones are not from the same animal, they lay in the appropriate order for an intriguing display.

One of the more intriguing prehistoric deposits is one left behind the dinosaurs. Known as coprolites, dinosaur feces varies dramatically in shapes and sizes because of deformation during fossilization. Smaller pieces are readily available and inexpensive, but only large coprolites can be definitely attributed to dinosaurs. These large coprolites are quite rare since feces are composed of soft material and can break down quickly.

This 4 ½ pound coprolite is from the Morrison formation in Utah. It is impossible to know from which type of dinosaur this deposit dropped, but judging from the types of fossil bones found in the vicinity, it is likely from a large sauropod, such as Diploticus or Camarasaurus that roamed this area 150 million years ago.

Shale deposits often yield ancient fish and less frequently, reptiles between their layers. Most fish are quite common and inexpensive; where as other creatures are in higher demand, Mesosaurus being one of them.

Mesosaurus was the first reptile to revert back to a water-dwelling existence. It has also played an important role in the biological evidence for continental drift or plate tectonics. The skeletal remains of this early Permian period (280-250 million years ago) creature has been discovered in only two places: Southern Africa and eastern South America. Judging by its inability to swim so far, the proof that South America and Africa had at one time been joined was found.

This specimen in light shale is virtually complete, although the tail had been broken. Many collectible examples are disarticulated, in that toes, tail vertebrae, teeth or other small bones are separated from the skeleton or missing entirely. Price will of course be reflected in these incomplete skeletons. Another thing to be aware of is whether the Mesosaurus has been uncovered from the bottom side or top. The belly side will also command a lower price than one displaying the back. Prices can range from $600 to $3,000 for exceptional specimens.

Skulls of dinosaurs are very expensive to collect, but are some of the most intriguing fossils to own and display. The species most numerous and hence least expensive to collect is the Psittacosaurus, or "Parrot Head" dinosaur, which roamed what is present day China and Mongolia over 120 million years ago. This little known dinosaur was the first of the ceratops, which evolved into the later and more familiar Triceratops. Aside from a number of complete skeletons, many complete skulls have been recently unearthed and are available for anywhere from $350 to $2,000, depending on the size, completeness and appeal.

This skull had much of the internal matrix or soil removed, and although broken in transit on its right side, still remains a noteworthy and significant part of a collection of prehistoric fossils.

WHAT ABOUT BROKEN AND REPAIRED FOSSILS?

Fossils are delicate structures and can easily suffer misfortune during its extraction from the matrix (surrounding rock), transport, natural occurrences like storms and earthquakes, and mishandling. Many museum pieces, as well as commercially available fossils, even very expensive ones, have been repaired, some more professionally than others. What is important is the fossil itself; its scarcity, its placement, and its overall condition.

Collecting dinosaur fossils is a fascinating hobby that allows us to hold in our hands the bones of the monsters of our nightmares. We stand today as obviously advanced descendants, in awe of these frightening giants, yet knowing their time has passed.

 

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