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Parting shots?



[ A pseudo-brief return to ownership.  This message has a perspective
  that wasn't aired in previous messages.  In passing I'll also
  mention another message that Jeff Poling tried to slip under the
  proverbial wire.  Dino Russ suggested to him that a new type of
  "type" category could be created for a fossil that is unique but
  resides in a private collection.  Said fossil could become the
  holotype if it were later housed according to ICZN guidelines, but
  in the mean time might be published as a "privatetype".  Should
  another specimen be found referable to the "privatetype", the other
  could be designated the holotype with reference to the first
  specimen.  Any body want to shake some trees at the ICZN? -- MR ]

        While trapped under the evil of finals I have been thus far a
passive bystander over the debate of the fossils.  I would like to say
that James A. Jensen ("Dinosaur Jim") had a working relationship with
most "rockhounds" in Utah and Colorado (2 prime Jurassic {is there a
better time period?) havens).  Jim was able to collect an
extraordinary amount of material (very much wonderful indeed,
especially for sauropod fans out there!) by having a pretty simple
plan.  When fossils were discovered he would reward the finder with a
cast of a beautiful _Allosaurus_ skull.  To these folks the casts were
far superior to the real bone (lighter, more durable, prettier when
painted), which endeared them to Jim's heart.  Granted this strategy
will clearly not work with everyone, but as far as many of the western
institutions go that kind of give and take relationship still exists.
Jim went on to name at least 4 of his dinosaurs after their
discoverers, further ingratiating himself with the amateur and
commercial community.  But the world has clearly changed since those
happier years, for now academic paleo folks have to go through an
unbelievable amount of hassle just to obtain a permit to collect.  It
is unknowably frustrating to have a perfect locality but can't touch
it with more than a pocket knife blade until the necessary gears of
beaurocracy grind forward.  In that time many things can happen to the
specimen.  Granted I have yet to be robbed, looted or had the
environment punish a specimen, but I consider myself lucky.  Reading
the journals and diaries of some of the old collectors is really
interesting for no government agency really cared about what they did
until politicians saw an opportunity for some PR.  I have no viable
solutions to the fossil problems, and I saw many great points raised
during these congenial discussions.  Paleontology is entering a very
odd time for as the public continues to be exposed to us, and the
commercial demand continues to grow (though I am told it was a rough
year for commercial folks dealing with selling complete dinosaurs
overall) more pressure from a variety of sides will be placed on
regulation and legislation.  As a member of the scientific community I
am afraid that the legislation will tie our hands even more, where one
spends more time filling out forms than doing research (as if grant
proposals don't gobble enough time already).  The advantages of the
commercial and amateur community cannot be ignored, and neither of
those groups will ever allow paleo to slip back into the obscurity it
enjoyed 40 years ago (when scientists did what they liked and loved
it!  :) ).  Some compromise must be reached that will be fair to all.
We must accept that some will never play by the "rules" and will
continue conducting business that all three groups finds
reprehensible.  There is no way to stop that entirely.  What I find
most distressing is the attitude some professionals have taken.  I
recall listening to a lecture where the take home message was "we
would rather have the fossils destroyed by nature than collected by
bad guys".  Who wins here?
        One last note: the sauropods.  I have seen far too many
articulated sauropod specimens parted out in the commerical realm.  It
is easier to sell 4 or 5 caudal vertebrae than the whole tail.  Move
the merchandise, make some $$$, and move on.  Some outfits collect
with a bobcat or worse, destroying many little fossils, in their quest
for articulated material.  And, worse of all to an academic, they
collect only "pretty" material, leaving "junk" (like isolated
vertebrae, etc) as it is not sellable (though it is useful to grind up
into powder and mix in with paint to make for a more "realistic" look.
sigh).
        Should it become open season on fossils I shudder to think how
much backtracking I will need to do to piece together a single big
beast.  I have long entertained the fantasy that a wealthy individual
or organization would purchase a sauropod then fly my wife and I out
to study it, feeding us and sheltering us out of their pocket and the
good of their heart(s).  But the reality I believe would be that I
would have to travel to instead of 23 museums in North America, 220
individual homes, wreaking havoc with my bank account and time table.
>From a purely academic standpoint even the AMNH exhibits irritate me,
as they mounted real bone and made it very difficult to study many of
the specimens, painted over all sorts of things, and overall made
things into "eye candy" and not research fodder.  But it serves a
purpose, and it fulfills what was asked of it quite nicely.  But when
I go there I am "turned loose" on the material in the basement and in
a weeks time can see a tremendous amount of material.  One of the
other negatives of having the specimens in private hands and then
having people go forth and study them is that paleontologists as a
whole are personable people.  Downright gregarious in many cases.  And
people like to hear our stories.  Consequently visiting a collection
is not a clinical process but entails necessary (and quite
pleasurable) social interaction with a host of people, thereby
consuming a portion of research time.  What would happen if I had to
interact with, say, 16 individuals who purchased different parts of
the same sauropod, and had to talk with them and explain the
situation?  Well, though I would love to do the socializing I would be
hard pressed to perform my task in a reasonable amount of time.  In
fact I would get very little done compared to having the material
centrally located.  It is rough enough when I need to see material at
Yale and at Brigham Young Univerity in Provo, Utah, imagine how much
more difficult it would/will be when in a Dinosaur Society grant I
have to explain why I need to fly to a variety of across the ocean
locales to see specimens from the same quarry/individual or some such
nonsense that is bound to occur (and has happened already in the case
of many sauropods.  Try looking at all of the Dinosaur National
Monument sauropod material at one institution...)  The upside of it
all is that it would give paleontologists the opportunity to travel
all over the world and meet people you otherwise would not know and,
who knows, maybe even find a sponsor out of it all...  I guess I just
want to look on the bright side.
        BC

        Oh yeah, regarding Nick Longrich's _Amaragasaurus_ question.  It 
looks very similar to _Dicraeosaurus_, and the latter is believed to be a 
diplodocid because of skull characters.  There is a definite split on the 
latter's placement as a family or subfamily, and I hope to have a longer 
post out with details on this and other sauropod goodies...