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Bidder scoops up prized poop for $8,500

Irwin Villaflor shows the coprolite, or fossilized feces, that was auctioned off for $8,500 by the I.M. Chait Gallery in Beverly Hills. ED CRISOSTOMO , STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

It looks like one man’s trash really is another man’s treasure. That was the case on Saturday when a 40-inch piece of coprolite, thought to be the longest fossilized feces ever to be auctioned, sold for $8,500. The piece was bought by an anonymous phone bidder from the Midwest.

The specimen could be up to 33 million years old, according to Josh Chait, co-owner of I.M. Chait Gallery in Beverly Hills, which sold the specimen.

The coprolite was discovered in Washington state a few years ago by a fossil hunter. The man studied the piece before deciding to sell it.

“It’s a big score,” Chait said. He added that many fossil hunters sell the pieces they find at auctions in order to fund their work.

It is unknown what species the specimen came from, but it most likely came from a turtle, according to Chait. Originally, people thought the coprolite came from a dinosaur, but dinosaurs were extinct millions of years before the coprolite was laid.

coprolites hold many research benefits for paleontologists. By studying dung, they are able to learn about the diet of the animal that passed it. Studying coprolites has allowed scientists to prove cannibalistic behavior in some ancient cultures.

Although the man who bought the piece is a private collector, he is known to display and donate his collections, Chait said.

I.M. Chait is not the first gallery, though, to sell feces. In 2006, Bonhams, in Los Angeles, put up a necklace made of coprolite and dinosaur bones. Last year, Christie’s, in London, offered a set of three coprolites and fetched $3,120 for the pieces.

The I.M. Chait Gallery is a family business. Chait said his father and brother handle a lot of the artifacts while he serves in a managerial role. He said it was not a formal education, but experience that allowed his family to run the auction house.

“You have to have an eye to be able to look at something and see if it’s genuine or not, and that is not something you can be taught,” Chait said.

The I.M. Chait Gallery holds 20 auctions a year; many are devoted to Asian art, but others are natural history auctions.

Saturday’s auction featured items such as crystals, jewelry, fossils, mammoth hair and a tyrannosaurus rex tooth.

Contact the writer: hmadans@losangelesregister.com

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