A Texas museum that teaches creationism is counting on the auction of a prehistoric mastodon skull to stave off extinction.

The founder and curator of the Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum, which rejects evolution and claims that man and dinosaurs coexisted, said it will close unless the Volkswagen-sized skull finds a generous bidder.

"If it sells, well, then we can come another day," Joe Taylor said. "This is very important to our continuing."

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Heritage Auction Galleries says the skull is estimated to be 40,000 years old, and projects it will fetch upward of $160,000.

The artifact discovered in La Grange in 2004 is believed to be the largest of its kind, Heritage spokesman David Herskowitz said.

The auction will be held Sunday in Dallas, with bids accepted on the Internet until Saturday night.

"We're trying to reach out to someone who would buy it, then reach out to a museum in Texas," Herskowitz said.

Taylor said he would love to keep the skull of the elephant-like mammal as the centerpiece of his tiny museum just outside Lubbock, which includes creationist exhibits.

Claims on the museum's Web site include that Noah took dinosaurs aboard his ark. The prevailing scientific wisdom is that humans and dinosaurs missed each other by tens of millions of years.

Taylor said he's been financially crippled by about $136,000 he's been ordered to pay in a legal dispute over finder's rights to an Allosaurus skeleton unearthed in Colorado.

About $141,000 has also been put into the mastodon skull's restoration, he said.

If the mastodon auction doesn't cover the judgment, Taylor said local authorities will seize his 10-year-old museum and sell off its contents in February.

"We've struggled so long here just to keep this thing going," Taylor said. "We're kind of losing interest. You can just tread water for so long."

The Heritage auction will also include other natural history items, including a 26-pound gold nugget found in Mexico that is expected to fetch at least $1 million.