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In a recent bout of messages we have witnessed an emergence of controversy
and correction in regards to fossil sales being discussed here. I may be
adding to that chaotic state, but is not my intent. We, the members of this
forum, are subscribed in an effort to share information in a scientific
manner. If we are not allowed to assimilate information from all sources we
are not scientists. This is not opinion but fact. Disallowing such posts as
we recently saw is clearly an easy way to deal with such matters, but is it
the best way? I contend that it is not, and I hope to show some reasons why
with this posting.
At the fossil resource conference in Rapid City this past October this
subject came up repeatedly and was addressed in a multitude of manners.
Federal land managers are hesitant to place a value on fossils for fear of
endorsing a market for fossils, but that stance is clearly not in the best
interest of the publicly owned fossil resource. The man that presented the
states case in the Sue matter made a valid point in that without a value
set on fossils there can be no case against looters of our national
treasures. It impossible to convince the court that all, or any, fossils
are "priceless". In a court of law there must be established a context
within which any case can be adjudicated, and the value of a fossil is
critical in successful prosecution of looters and thieves. Therefore it
behoves resource managers to be aware of the current market value of
fossils present on lands within their stewardship. One critical point is
that these managers will be required to provide clear testimony in such
court cases as they arise. Without a knowledge of market value their
testimony is diminished, if not detrimental to the prosecution. Therefore,
knowledge of information regarding the market value of fossils and their
sales is critical to protection of publicly owned fossils resources.
Another reason we might want to allow discussion of fossils sales in this
forum is that without commercial collectors many of the most important
specimens we know of today would be lost. I know the words Black Hills
Institute hang like a black cloud over such discussions in many peoples
minds, but many major museums including public trust institutions own some
of their better specimens thanks to such collectors. Like them or hate them
these commercial fossil collectors play a major role in paleontological
efforts. Whether these public institutions are unable, unwilling, or
whatever to collect on their own, the fact remains that their support and
cooperation with the commercial collectors are producing very positive
results. In some of the more public transactions the media has typically
portrayed commecial collectors as priates, but the high profile
institutions continue to do business with these collectors. From what was
told to me by department heads of some of these institutions they will
continue their relationships because they know the commercial collectors
get positive results. So, without knowledge of fossil sales many museums,
including universities such as North Carolina, would be unable to obtain
excellent specimens that are placed on the market.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, knowledge of fossil sales allows
disclosure. All high profile sales of fossils will become a matter of
public knowledge thanks to the media and such forums as this. If we don't
know where a fossils ends up, or who buys it, there can be no tracking.
Without this tracking any possiblility of follow-up study is lost if a
private individual is the eventual owner. Therefore, we need to be made
aware of fossil sales so this information can be distributed among the many
members of this forum and beyond. The more people that are educated in
these matters the more likely a positive result will eventually be reached.
We cannot in good concience bury our collective heads in the sand to the
fact that this market for commercially collected fossils exists. To do so
does not serve the scientific community nor the public interest.
I am not hereby encouraging the sale of fossils, nor advertsing them here.
What I am attempting to do is point out that information about such matters
are critical to our overall study of paleontology. In order for us to have
an opinion or develope an educated understanding of such matters we need
access to facts. To deny that access to information, or limit its content,
hinders our ability to think in a wide and encompassing manner. Without
such freedom of thinking we are lessening our effectiveness and alienating
ourselves from the public we strive to serve.
I hope to make you more aware by this posting, and not start a flame war.
I'm sure there are a good number of you that can argue against these
points, and quite effectively. I'm only attempting to point out that there
are valid reasons to consider allowing information such as the message that
initiated my posting this to begin with. I would hope that responses,
should there be any, be directed toward the advancement or retardation of
the science of paleontology. I have tried very hard to not voice opinion,
but present points to consider in light of education and tolerance.
Therefore I request all responses be centered in the same light.
I also hope not to anger the administrators of this list, as this is not
All comments are my own and do not reflect the positions or policies of the
Grand River Museum.
Rehetoric is a picture of a warm meal to a starving child.
Roger A. Stephenson
The Grand River Museum
Lemmon, South Dakota