Editor's note: We've added an update at the bottom of this post with results of the auction. Read on!
It's a highly specialized category to be sure: "Longest." But that's what the auctioneer is selling. According to the catalog of I.M. Chait Gallery, in Beverly Hills, "This truly spectacular specimen is possibly the longest example of coprolite ever to be offered at auction."
Coprolite is fossilized fecal matter. This specimen is roughly 20 million years old. For the guy who has everything (and who has occasionally looked below to see what he's produced in the porcelain bowl), here's a souvenir worth bragging about. "Mine is from the Miocene and it's the 'longest,' " he can say (ignoring the slippery word "possibly"). The auctioneer is looking for a bid of $8,000 to $10,000.
Its other attributes? "It boasts a wonderfully even, pale brown-yellow coloring and terrifically detailed texture to the heavily botryoidal surface across the whole of its immense length," the catalog says.
Botryoidal? I looked it up. It means clumpy, from the Greek for a "bunch of grapes." Like when you see undigested bits and think, "that's the stale part of the fruitcake I had to eat at my aunt's house yesterday."
Who Made It?
What the coprolite's producer had eaten, we don't know. What sort of animal it was, we can't say. "The passer of this remarkable object is unknown," says the catalog, but "it is nonetheless a highly evocative specimen of unprecedented size, presented in four sections, each with a heavy, black-marble custom base, with an eye-watering 40 inches in length overall."
Forty inches! That's big, no? It's certainly big if you're a 5-foot-8-inch human. Upright, it would reach to your shoulders. Had the producer of this string been a dinosaur — one of those superlong plant-eaters with a long neck that could stretch for 90 feet (1080 inches) — then this chain of poop would be only 1/26, or so, of its body length. That's nothing. You probably know somebody who has produced a similarly scaled achievement in modern times. (Maybe that somebody is you.)
But because this specimen comes from the Miocene — a fairly recent era, after the dinosaurs had vanished — maybe this "release" is impressive. I looked up animals from the Miocene and found most to be modest in size. The most dramatic non-marine giant was an Argentine bird bigger than anything we have today, called Argentavis magnificens (literally "magnificent Argentine bird"). This will give you a sense of its scale ...
It had wingspan of 23 feet, but a body not much bigger than most human bodies. If this bird was the pooper, a release of this length would indeed have been an eyebrow raiser (if anyone back then had eyebrows). So maybe coprolite is, as the catalog says, "a truly spectacular specimen." I don't know. More knowledgeable folks than I will be bidding next week when it comes up for sale. I will report the results on this page when (and if) there's a winning bid.
The auction starts at 1 p.m. on July 26.
UPDATE, July 30, 2014
Going, Going ... Gone ... For How Much?
The 40-incher sold. The winning bid was $8,500 — that's toward the lower end of the expectations of the folks at I.M. Chait, who ran the auction, but considering the nature of the prize, that works out to $212.50 an inch — not bad. The purchaser wishes to remain anonymous. He (or she), bid by phone from "the Midwest," it was reported. If we want to be totally accurate about all this (which we do), my NPR colleague, Nicholas St. Fleur, informs me that I.M. Chait charges a 22 percent commission on top of the bid, so the winner, whoever it was, actually laid out $10,370. So each inch cost him/her a little bit more.