Friday, December 18, 2009

The Downside of Dinosaur Fossil Hunting

The war is on! In what is known as "Jurassic Coast," in southwest England, there is a war going on between professional fossil hunters and the National Trust as to who owns the fossils. ScienceDaily has the story. Michael Hanlon writes:
'This is, quite simply, the finest unbroken record of the Age of Dinosaurs anywhere in the world,' says Richard Edmonds, geologist and chief scientific officer for the Jurassic Coast, a world heritage site since 2001, which runs from Exmouth to Studland. The rock strata of this remarkable 95-mile stretch of coastline encompasses 180 million years of the Earth's history.
As such, it should prove to be a boon to scientists all over the world, right? Sadly, that is not what is going on. He continues:
If the wet, crumbling cliffs of Dorset are the coalface for fossil collectors, Dale Rogers's shop in Belgravia is the showcase. Ammonite 2000 is London's premium dealer in rare fossils and minerals, and relies heavily on the Dorset fossil-hunters for its supplies.

'We sell to interior designers, hotels, celebrities,' explains Rogers.

Here, Earth's treasures are freely available for those with oligarch levels of cash. Above the counter, a complete 4ft ichthyosaur is mounted on a wall. This one, also from Lyme, is perfect, every rib and vertebra, even the scales visible on its fins.

'Yours for £100,000,' says Rogers. 'I hope it will go to someone who knows what it is, but there's a good chance someone will come in and go, "Wow honey, that looks like a dolphin! I love dolphins, they are so cute... can we get it?"'

Rogers says his stock is all 'totally legal', but admits that in the trade 'a lot of stuff goes on'. The problem is that there are no clear rules.
The problem is, as Mr. Hanlon points out, many of these fossils, if not discovered by the hunters, would never be found because the necessary funds and manpower is not there to do it by the book. This is, in some senses, amateur salvage archaeology. That many of the more amazing fossils end up in private collections is regrettable, though.

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  1. That many of the more amazing fossils end up in private collections is regrettable, though.


  2. Because those specimens can never be used to teach palaeontology to students or the general public.

  3. They can't be studied and recorded by paleontologists?