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Dinosaur bones for sale, at auction

The fossils that the Dino Cowboy discovered are nearly full intact.

Clayton at the Dueling Dinos Excavation Site in 2006.

This November, auction house Bonhams has something a little unusual coming on the block: Two fighting dinosaurs.

Well, their bones anyway.

First discovered back in 2006, the fossils could be a major discovery for the scientific community, with the remains locked in what appears to be fighting positions, buried together. But after some negotiations with museums like the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and the American Museum of Natural History, in New York, the fossils will now be sold to the highest bidder, for somewhere in the range of $7 million.

One of the people behind the find is Clayton Phipps, a man who calls himself the Dino Cowboy. Based in Montana, the home to a wealth of dinosaur bone discoveries over the years, the former rancher got into the dino bone hunting game almost by accident.

"When I first started doing this, it was more of a hobby," says Phipps. "Then about four years into it, I went fossil hunting and I found a little 'dragon' skull."

That 'dragon' skull was worth some very real money -- around $40,000, enough to last him and his family for about a year.

"I told my wife, 'I think I want to quit my job and see if I can do this,'" he says. "At about that time our family ranch split up -- after my dad passed away -- and we ended up with a little chunk just not quite big enough to starve to death. So I decided to see if I could supplement our income with fossils."

Some in the scientific community have raised concerns over the private sale of dinosaur bones, but Phipps says it is an issue not just of his own financial health but also that of his community.

"I'm obviously trying to feed my family doing this. I've got a lot invested into this project, and it's an investment I made. [And also] my goal when I started doing this was to let landowners know that there was some value in their fossils," says Phipps. "I've watched people come to our county and take the fossils and give no credit to our area or anything. To me, I think the landowners ought to realize something from what's being taken off their place."

If the sale does go through, Phipps says he's not quite ready to hang up his fossil-hunting spurs.

"I enjoy it too much. I'm sure there's more out there in the hills," he says. "Good Lord willing, I'll find another one some day."

About the author

Lizzie O'Leary is the new host of Marketplace Weekend.

Clayton at the Dueling Dinos Excavation Site in 2006.

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