Above is a view of the Ramada In at 1601 North Oracle, which hosts the most significant gathering of fossil dealers at the Tucson Show. This public show is one of four Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show locations promoted and put on by Marty Zinn. The Ramada Inn is located just kitty-corner across Oracle and Drachman from another Arizona Mineral and Fossil Show location at the Executive Inn, which hosts what is generally regarded as the top show for mineral dealers.
The fossil show at the Ramada Inn is a very pleasant location to browse due to the spacious and attractively landscaped courtyard that the dealers' rooms surround. Approximately 110 dealers are showing at the Ramada this year. I had only planned to spend a day touring here, but I found so many interesting things to check out and report on here that one day turned into three before I knew it. I've always appreciated fossils on the basis of their aesthetics even though my general knowledge of them is rather limited. The opportunities to learn from experts at this show is unparalleled and I did my best to take advantage of and exploit that opportunity during my all too short days here this year.
I do seem to have a developing interest in ammonites in particular, a long extinct order of cephalopods which are invaluable to geologists as marker fossils in determining the age of geological strata. I first became interested in ammonites after encountering Steve Jorgensen, a world class ammonite collector, expert and authority, setting up his case of Didymoceras ammonites at the 1998 Denver Show.
Steve's enthusiasm for ammonites was contagious and he managed to plant a seed and infect me during the course of a 15 minute or so conversation over his case. I'm not sure whether to I need to thank or curse Steve yet, but I decided to take the plunge at the 2000 Show, and silver pick my first and the best ammonite specimen I could find within a $100 budget. That turned out to be a rather tougher choice than I anticipated... I'll relate some of what I learned about ammonites and show you a few of the many candidates which were available to choose from at the fossil show, and of course what I liked best and took home with me.
In the Colony Room at the Ramada Inn, Canada Fossils was showing these spectacular, opal rivaling ammonites from their quarry in the St. Mary's River basin in southern Alberta. These Placenticeras meeki come from the upper Cretaceous Bearpaw Formation, which is part of the Pierre Shale and dated at approximately 71 million years. Placenticeras meeki reached a size of up to approximately 30 inches in diameter. Canada Fossils recovers less than 200 of these ammonites from their quarry annually and less than 50% of them exhibit good color, and very few are of the quality and as spectacular as these specimens. These specimens have undergone a unique mineralization, and a gem material named ammolite is derived from them, which is the gemstone of Canada.
I'm afraid each of the eight specimens shown on shelf above right were all somewhat beyond my ammonite budget, starting at $2000 and running up to $7000 dollars. Oh well, maybe next year...
The specimen above left was approximately 11 inches in diameter and it was one of the less expensive, offered at $2900. I thought this specimen very attractive in spite of not being completely covered with ammolite. All else equal, a piece with a greater spread of and more differentiated colors is considered to be more valuable and generally more desirable, and this one exhibited a rainbow of color. The specimen above right was also about 11 inches in diameter and it was covered all over with predominately red ammolite which flashed a spectrum of colors as the viewer shifted perspective. This ammonite wanted $7000.
At left is the top dollar getter. This ammonite on matrix was covered with predominately orange/red/yellow ammolite with flashes of green - It measured about 16 inches and was commanding $22,000.
Canada Fossils also showed Mammoth tusks and other fossils in addition to their ammonites. I thought the above specimen to be extremely aesthetic and interesting. At first glance I thought I must be looking at some kind of ant-eating mammal, but this one was identified by its label as an unreconstructed or restored specimen of a Champsosaurus Laramidensis from the Upper Cretaceous. The 'saurus' behind 'Champso' designates a reptile. It was found on the Sullivan Ranch east of Dupuyer, Montana. Note the remarkable skin impression.
After doing a little research I learned that Champsosaurus sp were Eosuchian reptiles resembling slim-snouted crocodiles, although they are not closely related to them. The larger species reached lengths up to 15 feet and lived in North Dakota and Montana from about 66 to 55 million years ago, when that area had a much warmer and wetter climate than today and was covered with lakes, cypress swamps and streams with an inland sea to the east.Champsosaurs where one of the large animals surviving the dinosaur and ammonite killing extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period of the Mesozoic era. Champsosaurs become extinct at the end of the Palaeocene period of the Cenozoic era, possibly from competition from a new fish-eating crocodile in conjunction with a cooling climate. Their bones are one of the more common vertebrate fossils found in western North Dakota in Palaeocene strata, but specimens of this quality are exceedingly uncommon and this specimen has been pronounced by a number of authorities as the finest ever discovered.
Several days after taking the above photo I learned this specimen had been sold for an undisclosed amount somewhere in the five-figures to a museum. I was told had it gone to a private collector instead of a museum the damage would have easily been in the six-figure range.
CanadaFossils Web: Canada Fossils Tel: 887.242.6637 Fax: 403.242.3959 536-38A Avenue SE, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2G 1X4
While fossilized fauna seems provide the primary attraction for most collectors and appreciators, fossilized flora can be very aesthetic and is often significantly lower on the evolutionary scale cost-wise to silver pick than critters. Owner Steve Hess of Extinctions Fossil Company in Room 104 showed several tables covered with specimens of fossilized Platanus wyomingensis leaves, an Eocene sycamore tree. These specimens are from the Green River Formation in Uintah County, Utah. Being from the Eocene epoch of the Cenozoic era means autumn fell for these leaves around 50 million years ago. The cost was $40 to take home the specimen in hand, which I considered to be the finest and most aesthetic of the lot. Smaller and lesser sycamore leaf specimens were going for considerably less.
Extinctions also showed several tables and cases of fossilized fauna, with trilobites from common to rare being a specialty of Steve's. Above left is an overview of one table covered mostly with trilobites. Trilobites are classified as arthropods, the largest phylum of animals which also includes extinct and modern day insects, spiders, crustaceans, centipedes, millipedes and scorpions. The arthropods share hard exoskeletons among their common and generally delineating characteristics. Trilobites ruled the ancient seabeds for many millions of years and were well established by the Cambrian period of the Palaeozoic Era, over 500 million years ago. Trilobites are the most commonly preserved and fossilized arthropods and extremely important to the scientific study of early life and conditions on Earth. Like ammonites, trilobites were diverse and ubiquitous and they are also employed by geologists as marker fossils in determining the age of geologic strata.
At $14, the specimen I'm displaying above right was one of the least expensive trilos I examined at this show. While not exactly a Godzilla class trilo in the size department at approximately 1.75 cm, I thought this Modocia typicalis specimen quite handsome. It is from the middle Cambrian and the Marjum Formation, Millard, Utah.
After inspecting the various specimens on the table shown above, I selected the one at left as one of my favorites from it, especially considering its price of $80 keystone. This trilobite is a Leonaspis williamsi from the lower Devonian period of the Precambrian era, which makes it going on 400 million years old. It is from the Haragan Formation, Clarita, Oklahoma. It seemed like a pretty nice specimen to me for the money as I had already seen others which were similar and priced considerably higher in other dealer's rooms. So I asked Steve why this one didn't cost more and he pointed out a number of flaws and imperfections which rendered it a 'B' grade specimen, including some compression, missing areas and restoration on some of the spines. Not being that familiar with fossils I had a little difficulty recognizing and appreciating some of what Steve was pointing out, so he brought out two specimens of another species on opposite ends of the quality spectrum to help illustrate his remarks regarding the Leonaspis.
Above left and right are inferior and superb specimens of Huntonia lingulifer, also from the lower Devonian and the Haragan Formation, Clarita, Oklahoma. The inferior specimen is compressed and incomplete, broken in several places and it is crowding the edge of the matrix. This trilo was approximately 6 cm in length and available at $70 for the enthusiast on a budget. Silver pickers with means substantial enough to budget and pay about $500 more could indulge themselves in a primo example such as the 5.5 cm specimen depicted above right.
Of course as with most other things, there's trilobites and then there's trilobites. Off in a separate, glass covered case in a corner of Extinctions' room were approximately a dozen very special specimens, most of which were unpriced as Steve had already sold them to, or was reserving them for his regular and special customers. Above left is really superb enrolled Metacanthina barrandea from the Devonian and the AM Limestone in Morocco. This specimen was approximately 4.6 cm across the tips of its genal spines and I think the first words out of my mouth upon initially sighting it were something along the lines of "Oh my God..." Check out those eyes! Steve related that this specimen was 'Godzilla' class size-wise relative to the run of its species. An extra appeal and value adder of this specimen is that it is free of its impression and perch on the matrix, and it can be removed and picked up separately.
I think this Metacanthina is probably the most aesthetic trilobite specimen I have had the pleasure of viewing to date. I can't really account for my taste in trilos, but I did note that this trilobite and its enrolled form remind me of "rolly polly" bugs, which roll up into a tight ball as a defensive measure when disturbed. I think these bugs are a type of millipede and my parents allege that I used to be quite the precocious little omnivore when I was just 3 or 4 years of age, and that I would tear up their patio by overturning the stones in search of rolly polly bugs as delicacies to consume. Now, as I've gotten older I've come to appreciate that my parents didn't always tell the truth regarding a number of matters, but I just thought I'd share that theory regarding the psychology of trilobite aesthetic appreciation with you...
Much less appetizing is the Philonyx sp depicted above right. This and many other Extinctions specimens were meticulously and painstakingly prepared with great skill and patience by Mike Thomas. Mike works full time as a preparer for Extinctions and he also prepared the enrolled Metacanthina. Philonyx were apparently removed from the top of the food chain and must have evolved its spines and ferocious appearance as defense mechanisms. Philonyx is also a Moroccan fossil from the Devonian and the AM Limestone. Mike estimated it easily requires 40 or more hours to prepare a specimen such as this. Click on the image above left for a close-up view of the head. 'Things' were rather different in the good old days, eh?
Pictured above left is another outstanding Moroccan specimen from the Devonian AM Limestone, a rare and heavily armored Comura sp. This specimen was approximately 7.6 cm (3 inches) in length and it was so awesomely ugly it was beautiful...
Above right Extinctions owner Steve Hess (in the white shirt), ace preparer Mike Thomas (in the denim and glasses), and one of Extinction's enthusiastic trilobite customers discuss the preparation done on a primo trilo specimen under the customer's consideration. You didn't have to be a rock scientist to tell it made Steve nervous to remove such irreplaceable and valuable fossil jewels from their protective case, but he graciously did so with all I asked for to facilitate my picture taking and documentation. I could have easily spent an entire day photographing all the trilos in Steve's primo case, but I didn't want to press my welcome or cause Steve a nervous condition, so I prudently stopped after these first three.
Trilobites weren't the only fauna fossils offered by Extinctions. I thought the above Keichousaurus hui to be very aesthetic and one of the best I've seen to my tastes. It was more three-dimensional and symmetrical than a good deal of Keichousaurus geological road kill seen at Tucson, and it displayed fine detail. This specimen is from the middle Triassic period of the Mesozoic era, which is the period immediately preceding the Jurassic, making it more than 200 million years old. It comes from the Tingxiao Formation, Guizhou Province, China. This Keichousaurus was about 9.5 inches in length on an 11 inch slab of matrix and it wanted $2000. If you divide $2000 by 200 million years, it works out to only a thousandth of a cent per year...
Extinctions Web: Extinctions Fossils Company Tel: 719.738.1870 PO Box 1040 Walsenburg, CO 81809
In Room 108 at the Ramada, I found Jim Pendergraft, owner of J&S Fossils from Largo, Florida. Nearly all of Jim's room was full of shelves, tables and flats loaded with Carcharocles megalodon shark teeth. This extinct species swam oceans during Miocene-Pliocene epochs of the Cenozoic era, between approximately 2 to 15 million years ago. As you might ascertain from the size of its fossilized teeth, this shark was enormous, with the largest individuals reaching lengths of 60 to 70 feet - easily three times the size of contemporary great white sharks. Carcharocles megalodon made its living by hunting whales.
The largest Megalodon teeth reach approximately 7 inches in size. Many are recovered from South Carolina rivers cutting through the fossil-rich Hawthorne Formation or from South Florida phosphate mining operations which yield fossils from the Bone Valley Formation. Only a few teeth have been found that measure over 7 inches. Smaller teeth are much more ubiquitous with the average size being about 3.5 to 4 inches. Teeth exceeding 5 inches are uncommon and those 6 inches and larger are very rare. Of course the price collectors must pay to silver pick the largest Megalodon teeth is significantly greater than the smaller ones.
Above right are several of the teeth displayed on one of Jim's shelves with a floppy disk included for scale. From left to right, these specimens wanted $450, $300, $550 and $300. These teeth become fossils by being buried in sediments which prevent oxygen and destructive bacteria from working on the tooth and decomposing it. The time required to go from tooth to fossil varies significantly in particular situations, but 10,000 years or so is a ball park figure for the length of the process. The color displayed by fossilized teeth is not 'natural' and it is determined by the color and mineral content of the sediment surrounding the teeth during the fossilizing process. The most common colors are black roots with a grey crown but others colors are found and they are of course considered more valuable and desirable than the black and greys.
Jim displayed his largest and most primo specimens in cases under glass. Shown above left is a 6 incher which was commanding $1500. The floppy I included for scale is a little misleading as it is on top of the case glass and closer to the camera lens than the tooth. I also learned that shark's teeth are properly measured on the slant or diagonal, like televisions and computer monitors, so that the maximum dimension rather the shorter length down the plane of symmetry is used to describe the size of them.
Shown above right is one of many flats filled with various size Megalodon teeth. The teeth in this particular flat ran between 2.5 and 2.75 inches and you could cherry pick the specimen most appealing to you in this size range for $18.
While sharks teeth are his specialty and the mainstay of J&S Fossils, Jim also showed some interesting specimens of other species. At left is a piece featuring two fossil shrimp which I thought was very aesthetic. The slab was about 3.75 x 4.5 inches in size and this specimen wanted $350. Jim wasn't positive regarding the species but said it is of German origin. I thought this piece would have some special appeal for Dan Harmony, a friend and web site client who owns EcoSphere, a Tucson business which designs, creates and markets closed ecosystems containing saltwater shrimp, algae and bacteria in sealed glass containers.
Dan, I know you had a good year last year, so you might as well get down here and snap this piece up for your desk before it goes home with those bums from BeachWorld... ;).
J&S Fossils Web: J&S Fossils Tel: 727.595.2661 Fax: 727.595.8544 17 Jeff Road, Largo, FL 33774-2038