This Nanotyrannus, thought to be a close relative of Tyrannosaurus rex, is one of two skeletons coming up for sale.


LOS ANGELES - A pair of fossil dinosaur skeletons dubbed the Montana Dueling Dinosaurs are headed for auction rather than straight to a museum.

The duo, discovered touching on a Montana ranch in 2006, appear to be relatives of Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops locked in mortal combat.

The dinosaurs, up on the auction block for Nov. 19, are valued at $7 million to $9 million, according to Bonhams auction house.

It's unlikely a museum would be able to afford that price, said Luis Chiappe, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County who was not involved in the find.

"I really doubt that there will be any museum with the kind of money available to purchase them, which is unfortunate," he said. "Ideally it should remain in public trust."

The fossils - which are nearly complete, and even include a little skin tissue, according to Bonhams - could provide researchers with a wealth of information, Chiappe said.

"These interactions in the fossil record are extremely rare," Chiappe said, stressing that little is known about the so-called dueling dinosaurs.

The skeletons may not look pretty right now, half-buried as they are in chunks of the original rock in which they were found and then wrapped in plaster. But this makes them much more scientifically valuable than if they were cleaned and put on display. Frozen in the rock, the bones help scientists understand how the limbs would have naturally moved together, and shows what the dino was doing in its final moments.

Also, analyzing the sediment can help determine where these fossils originated, because it isn't clear that they were fighting, Chiappe said, their "dueling" nickname notwithstanding.