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Sclerocephalus haeuseri
Lower Permian, Cisuralian Age
Lower Rotliegendes Formation
Saar-Nahe Basin
West Germany

The Permian Period (299 to 251 million years ago) was a time of great global change. The coal-producing swamps of the Carboniferous Period were drying up, and the earth's climate was slowly becoming more arid. By the end of the Permian Period, this global climatic change culminated with the Permo-Triassic Extinction event - the greatest such extinction ever to occur. Over a geologically brief span of time, an estimated 90 percent of all living species became extinct.

The world of the early Permian was ruled by amphibians; the first dinosaurs were still several tens of millions of years in the future. But these were not the cute little salamanders and frogs we are familiar with today. Permian amphibians were large, some reaching up to 16.5 feet (5 meters) in length. And many of them were carnivorous, often being the apex predators of the coastal ecosystems they inhabited.

The best-known outcrops of fossil-bearing early Permian sediments are in north-central Texas and in central Europe, particularly southwestern Germany. As upland areas slowly turned to deserts, lowland coastal environments such as floodplains, estuaries and deltas supported a fauna of large amphibians, one of which was Sclerocephalus an extinct genus of temnospondyl amphibians which included this specimen of Sclerocephalus haeuseri which is one of the most completely preserved and most abundant of the Paleozoic tetrapods.

Sclerocephalus haeuseri, which lived from 301 to 297 million years ago, was a well known inhabitant of the Saar-Nahe Basin in the Rheinland-Pfalz region of southwest Germany. S. haeuseri typically reached lengths of 5 feet (1.5 meters). As with other amphibians, S. haeuseri fossils exhibit juvenile and adult growth stages similar to modern tadpoles and frogs. Adult S. haeuseri typically fed on fish and smaller amphibians including sometimes members of their own species.

The present specimen of Sclerocephalus haeuseri is an outstanding young adult example of this archetypal predator of its time. It is 28 inches (70 cm) in length measured from tip of snout to tip of tail. The specimen has been beautifully prepared, and is completely original, showing no restroration or artificial coloration so commonly seen on similar specimens. In addition to the skeleton, the original body outline and some skin impressions are preserved. The painstaking preparation also brings out fine bone texture especially of the heavily-armored skull. The smaller prey amphibian may display some minor restoration.

The piece also features a fossil fish, possibly Paramblypterus gelberti which is 6.75 inches (17.15 cm) in length. It is a fine fossil fish specimen in its own right.

This specimen of Scelerocephalus haeuseri is amazing on its own merits, but it is a fossil with a unique story to tell. The animal apparently asphyxiated while trying to swallow its last meal. Within its head and throat area can be seen the skull and other bones of a somewhat smaller amphibian, and beside the S.haeuseri's skull is the posterior half of what appears to be the same prey animal, apparently bitten in two! This smaller animal has been identified as Cherlyderpeton latirostris, although it could be a smaller S. haeuseri. Specimens where the predator has choked on its prey are known as aspiration specimens. Aspirations involving fish are uncommon but are seen from time to time, and specimens of S. haeuseri are sometimes found with preserved stomach contents. But no such other aspiration specimens of S. haeuseri are known at this time.

Because of changes in German law, collecting of these specimens is no longer permitted. Therefore, specimens like this one from older collections are the only ones which can be owned legally.

Measurements: Large amphibian - 28 x 9 inches (71.12 x 22.86 cm). Small amphibian - 11.5 x 7.75 inches (29.21 x 19.69 cm). Fossil fish - 6.75 inches (17.145 cm).

Provenance: A Private San Francisco Collection

Condition Report*:

Condition report available upon request.

*Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

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Auction Dates
October, 2013
19th-20th Saturday-Sunday
Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 0
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