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    Description

    AN EXTREMELY RARE DIRE WOLF SKULL FROM THE RANCHO LA BREA FORMATION OF CALIFORNIA
    Canis dirus
    Pleistocene
    Rancho La Brea Formation, Kern County, California

    During the last Ice Age, tar seeps occurred in several locations in southern California, not just at the world-famous La Brea Tar Pits on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. These natural traps would often look like benign ponds of cool water to the thirsty animals that roamed these prehistoric savannahs because water floats on top of heavy petroleum, or tar. Large herbivores such as Mastodon, Mammoth, Giant Ground Sloth, Bison, or Horse would come to the edge of the water to drink and, if they were unlucky enough to step into the water, the sticky tar underneath would entrap them, and then slowly pull them down into the tar pool and certain death in a manner similar to quicksand. The trapped animals would struggle mightily to free themselves and, in the process, attract opportunistic predators with their cries of terror and thrashing, noisy body movements. The great "Dire" wolf was one such predator that would attack the immobilized prey in packs. The wolves would themselves become mired in the tar in large numbers, most likely as a result of their pack-hunting methods. We know that the wolves were particularly susceptible to entrapment because the fossil record at the La Brea Tar Pits shows an incredible number of Dire Wolf specimens, representing the largest percentage of any carnivore in the fauna. Thus, the thing that makes canids so successful, their highly socialized, cooperative pack-hunting behavior, was also their downfall at Rancho La Brea with its many death traps. Dire wolves were closely related to the Gray, or Timber, Wolf, and co-existed in North America for around 100,000 years, with somewhat larger but with stockier legs. They probably went extinct concurrent with the appearance of man on our continent - the early Paleo-Indians were the likely culprits in the disappearance of most of the megafauna that existed in the late Pleistocene.
    This particular specimen comes from the estate of world-famous fossil collector George Lee of Costa Mesa, California. Mr. Lee, a prolific field collector, personally collected this specimen in the early 1970s. Today there is virtually no legal way to collect in the tar seeps, so tar pit specimens such as this are almost irreplaceable. Dire Wolf fossils are highly prized by collectors first because they are from a large carnivore and, second, because there are almost none in private hands.
    This marvelously preserved skull is that of a large juvenile. It displays no burial distortion and measures 11 inches long by 5½ inches wide across the zygomatic arches by 6 inches high. It possesses a nearly perfect set of teeth, exhibiting little wear, and has a gorgeous natural orange-brown coloration that is caused by the infiltration of petroleum into the bone and teeth. Approximately 25% of the bone surface was missing and has been expertly restored. Three lower incisors were replaced, and the tips of one canine and one premolar were restored. Mounted on a custom-made ebonized steel stand this is truly a superb museum-quality specimen.


    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. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. 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.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2008
    8th Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 3
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 5,570

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