SAN FRANCISCO — The fossil of a 200 million-year-old winged reptile is headed for the auction block, peeving paleontologists who argue the relic belongs in a museum.
Known as the Icarosaurus siefkeri, the reptile resembles a huge dragonfly that's about 7 inches long and about 10 inches from wingtip to wingtip. Its fossilized imprint could fetch $300,000.
The creature lived some 50 million years before dinosaurs and Archaeopteryx — evolution's first true bird.
A trio of teenagers excavated it from the black shale of an abandoned New Jersey quarry 39 years ago. At the time, it was the oldest airborne vertebrate known to scientists.
The fossil had been kept at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. But Alfred Siefker, the man who found the fossil when he was 17 and whose name museum scientists gave to it, reclaimed the relic 10 years ago.
Now age 56 and ill, Siefker is selling it because he needs the money, said David Herskowitz of Butterfield & Butterfield, where the fossil will be auctioned Aug. 27.
"The Icarosaurus is our most outstanding object and really belongs on exhibit in a museum, not in some private collector's living room," Herskowitz said. "So we've notified every natural history museum about it, and they ought to get some of their wealthy trustees to buy it and donate it."
Scientists say they are disturbed by the increasing commercialization of fossil collections.
Mark B. Goodwin, a vertebrate paleontologist and principal scientist at the Museum of Paleontology in Berkeley, blasted any sale of the Icarosaurus as a "highly unethical event that will only increase commercialization and encourage the theft of fossils from museums."
On the Net: Butterfields: www.butterfields.com
American Museum of Natural History: www.amnh.org
Links to dinosaur sites: www.encyberpedia.com/dinos.htm