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Re: Fossil Ownership



Steve Cole,

>This is not at all what I said, and the misinterpretation shows the
>typical blind spot of proper scientists: if it's not in our museum, it
>does not exist. I never said that commercial collectors would produce
>more fossils for museums. Since museums rarely are willing to PAY for
>fossils, it's no wonder that 96% of what they have they went and
>got themselves. The point is that commercial collecting means MORE
>fossils collected and saved from eroding away, even if they don't
>end up in museums, but in private homes and collections. 

Sorry if I did misrepresnet you case steve, it was unintentional. But I
would take the case that a specimen lost to erosion and a specimen lost to
a private collection are of equal scientific merit. While your plans for
the register of private collections and opening them to scientific study
may sound appropriate, and in an ideal world they would be, in reality
private collections have been too unstable to be proper repositories of
scientifically important specimens. It is extremely rare that a private
collector can provide appropriate preparation, maintainence and housing of
fossils let alone appropriate scientific access. If I want to view a
specimen in the collections of the British Museum of Natural History, I
know they will always be at Cromwell Rd, South Kensington or that someone
at that local will known which storage house they are in. If I want to
track down a specimen in Fred Bloggs collection, who died 40 years ago, I
have to find his descendants, where they live, what became of the specimens
etc., etc., and I will only be sucessful if these people have been diligent
in their record keeping (which is very unlikely).

> Caitlin Kiernan thinks that someone who has the only copy of a given
> new creature (say, a new Mosasaur, for example) should donate it. I
> agree, he should, but he won't. He paid for it, [ ... ] Seems like
> when you find someone who has such an item and can't get him to
> donate it, you should try to educate him to properly store,
> maintain, and preserve his investment, and even give you a
> consulting fee to prepare a proper scientific presentation, rather
> than your current plan to declare him to be a scoundrel and pretend
> that this putative Mosasaur does not exist because you don't like
> the guy who has it, how he got it, or what he did with it. Or maybe
> we could both be happy if you agreed to name it for their
> corporation but ONLY if they agree to put it on permanent exhibition
> in your museum?  If you take it off display and put it in a drawer,
> they get it back and could arrange to place it (and the associated
> corporate advertising plaque) in another institution.

This sounds like a perfect argument for the compulsory public acquisition
of scientifically important fossils. Despite fears voiced elswhere, this
can be done (and in some places, it is done) in a fair and equitable manner
for collectors, land owners and all others concerned but removes rare or
unique items of Earth Heritage from the cycle of investment/speculator
inflation and preserves them for the common good of all humanity (or
whatever species or machine inherits the world from us).

Cheers, Paul


Dr Paul M.A. Willis
Consulting Vertebrate Palaeontologist
Quinkana Pty Ltd
pwillis@ozemail.com.au