By Cecile Mantovani
GENEVA (Reuters) - A rare skeleton of a saber-toothed tiger which roamed the northern United States some 37 million years ago is estimated to fetch 60-80,000 Swiss francs (48,388 - 66,999 pounds)next week, auction house Piguet said on Tuesday.
The fossilized skeleton, discovered in South Dakota, is that of a robust Hoplophoneus weighing about 160 kilograms (350lb) which hunted primitive horses and small rhinoceros.
"This saber-toothed tiger is 37 million years old. It is particularly rare because its skeleton is 90% complete," Piguet director Bernard Piguet told Reuters Television.
Mounted on a piece of wood, the skeleton is the star lot among 40 on the block in Geneva at a Dec. 8 session dedicated to palaeontology which is also expected to attract online bidders.
Fabrice Van Rutten, Piguet's antiquity art specialist, said the item had a "universal dimension" without religious or cultural associations.
"It speaks to all of us regarding where we come from on Earth...I think this is one of the rare artistic areas without borders," he said.
Yann Cuenin, head of Nevadia, the Swiss-based seller, said the skeleton had been found in South Dakota's Badlands.
"This is probably one of the best pieces of this species that was discovered on this site," he said. "So the preservation is particularly good, the fossilization quality is very neat, the mineralization is perfect."
($1 = 0.9042 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by Cecile Mantovani; writing by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Ed Osmond)