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FOSSIL OWNERSHIP



Lawrence Dunn's idea that only certain institutions (presumably
museums and universities) could own fossils has several major flaws.
First of all being that most fossils will never be found since
the land owner could not sell them to the open market, and museums
would not pay enough for their 37th hadrosaur metacarpal to make it
worth picking up. Restricting the market to a few hundred entities
with limited funding ensures that there won't be a market.
Based on this destruction of the market, his idea could be seen
as confiscation of the value of property, something that the current
Republican congress and supreme court would never tolerate.
His idea that this would preserve fossils for the enjoyment of the
people is exactly the reverse of what would happen; museums display
only a tiny fraction of their stockpile and keep the rest locked
in drawers waiting for the next doctoral candidate who is running
a statistical survey of that particular type of bone. What few
fossils that landowners bother to collect won't be seen in public.
Perhaps Mr Dunn meant that only really big important fossils should
be covered by his scheme to take fossils out of the hands of the
people? That's not a good idea, either, since if a landowner found
a complete skeleton it would be worth more in parts sold to
individuals that as a whole sold to a restricted list of a few
hundred institutions.
Michael Sternberg's proposals seem much more realistic. Get the
scientists to take 1% of their time to support amateur fossil clubs
and then keep an eye on what shows up! I am concerned, however, by
his ideas to allow surface collection on public lands. First, you'd
have to have an Army of game wardens ("fossil wardens"?) who would
wander around checking to be sure that that fossil hunters have
their fossil hunting licenses (which would come with two "theorpod
tags" allowing only two carnivorous finds per season) and were
within their "point limits" (12 points for a nodosaurid jaw, one
point per hadrosaur metatarsal, 9 points per egg). Even then, I'm
concerned about what happens when a licensed fossil collector
finds an exposed T rex skull with some nice teeth and decides to
help himself to the teeth since he's not allowed to dig up the
whole thing. Seems to me one of Olshevsky's papers mentions some
big theorpod that had all of its teeth yanked by freelance fossil-
hunting dentists.
Caitlin Kiernan's concerns that commercial collectors are paying
big bucks for important mosasaurs are well-founded. The solution
is not to stop the commercial collectors, however, as their
activities mean MORE fossils are found, not fewer. The trick is to
keep the fossils from being "lost to science forever". The commercial
groups should be encouraged, perhaps even required, to register the
ownership of their major finds. Colleges could then arrange to
examine them, and perhaps make a profit on preparation services.
Any collector would find his collection enhanced by seeing it
formally published, and a new species could be named for him!