Titanichthys termieri
    Upper Devonian, Lower Famennian stage
    Tafilalt, Morocco
    This incredible fossil is the skull of a large and voracious Titanychthys. Immense armored fish, along with other members of the Arthrodira order, ruled the oceans of the Devonian period, 370 million years ago. Growing up to 30 feet in length, the Titanichthys were the Paleozoic equivalent of today's basking shark, prowling the oceans and engulfing large prey and even whole schools of fish with its specially adapted, gaping mouth. The Titanichthys were cousins of the Dunkleosteus, an apex predator of Devonian waters. Their reign of aquatic terror was finally terminated by the Hangenberg event of the late Devonian extinction, which saw the sea-levels drop dramatically and half of all genera vanish from the Earth. They have been found in a number of locations around the world, but the present example was uncovered several years ago in the rocky desert around the Anti-Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Carefully removed from the hard limestone matrix, the armor plates are very well preserved and have great textural details. A few elements on the skull had been eroded away but have been professionally restored to maintain scientific accuracy; there is less than 10% restoration to the skull and each element has been reassembled on a complex but discrete metal armature in its original inflated three-dimensional form.

    The order name, Arthrodira, means "jointed neck" in Greek, for the unusual arrangement of its skull and mouth: a movable joint on the top of the skull, called a cranio-thoracic joint or nuchal gap, allowed the skull to move upwards while the lower jaw descended, creating an enormous gaping mouth hole. The Titanichthys was a pelagic feeder, meaning that it engulfed its prey in this giant maw, and then filtered out the water. Those features are perfectly visible in the bone arrangement here, along with the mandible-like lower jaw bones, which served a tooth-like function in the otherwise toothless mouth. Also present is the characterful sclerotic ring, a bony structure found in birds and some ichthyosaurs, which was a support for the eyeball, but here gives the impression of the beady eyes themselves.

    The first of these extraordinary Titanichthys was discovered and described in the famed Cleveland Shale of Ohio in the 1800's; the first partial specimen of T.termieri was unearthed by French geologist Henri Termier in Morocco in the 1940's and described by paleontologist Jean-Pierre Lehman in the 1950's. Aside from isolated pieces of armor, only three complete skulls have ever been found, and the present example is the largest of the three, at 62 inches long, 44 inches wide and 28 inches high. The mouth is presented partially agape, 28 inches across, and the whole skull is raised on its metal stand to a height of almost 5 feet. A superb, museum-quality piece of remarkable rarity.

    Estimate: $40,000 - up.

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    Condition report available upon request.

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    Auction Dates
    June, 2011
    12th Sunday
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