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In a message dated 10/20/98 9:29:40 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
> Just to point out this situation as an object lesson to all sides of the
> "sale of fossils" debate:
> a) this goes to show the extremes some governments will go to in order to
> protect their national and natural heritage;
> b) for those who buy Chinese fossil specimens, remember that by
> participating in the market for these items, you are encouraging behavior
> which may be getting people killed.
While I don't usually transmit the entire news release, the following has
relevance to this discussion and may be hard to access otherwise for many
on this list.
"Japanese museums now wary of buying Chinese fossils"
.c Kyodo News Service
TOKYO, Oct. 20 (Kyodo) -- Museums have become wary of purchasing
Chinese fossils following a series of incidents this year that raised
about possible violations of an export ban by China.
The fossils in question are of the Confuciusornis sanctus, a chicken-sized
bird ancestor that existed between 160 million and 96 million years ago.
The fossils were discovered in the early 1990s in Liaoning Province in
northeast China and are important for studies on the evolution of birds.
Six public museums in Japan have samples of the fossils from China
despite Beijing's ban on their export.
In early July, the Education Ministry, which has jurisdiction over museums,
questioned the way the museums had got hold of the fossils.
While the museums maintained their purchases from fossil dealers
had been legitimate, Chinese government export permission documents
were not attached to any of the fossils.
The museums do not violate Japanese law by purchasing or possessing
The museums subsequently withdrew the fossils from display, citing
Yoshikazu Hasegawa, director of the Gunma Museum of Natural History,
said museums ''know they have to be more careful than ever to make sure
that their purchases are legal.''
In early October, the Tottori Prefectural Museum put two prehistoric
Chinese bird fossils back on display after the ministry said it found no
problem with the actual acquisition of the fossils and would leave the
on whether to display them to the individual museums.
Hiromichi Tanaka, an official at the Tottori museum, said it was a pity that
the fossils had to be temporarily removed from display.
''But we initially just didn't have enough information on China's domestic
laws and on the export routes of the fossils,'' he said.
The museum bought the two fossils from a Tokyo fossil dealer in April for
1.2 million yen and 800,000 yen apiece.
Hasegawa said it is actually very rare for fossils to have Chinese government
export permission documents attached to them, and that it is almost impossible
for museums to find out whether the fossils they buy from dealers are banned
export or not.
''All they can really do is trust the fossil dealer. And the dealers are not
willing to reveal how the fossils made the way into the country, because
having their own secret routes is part of the competition,'' Hasegawa said.
He said increased nervousness among museums about unknowingly making
illegal purchases could result in fossil dealers selling more to individual
''It might become more difficult for museums to get hold of fossils as
more fossils exchange hands on the black market,'' he said.
Makoto Manabe, curator of fossil reptiles and birds at the National Science
Museum, said that to prevent problems occurring from illegal purchases of
fossils, he wants to see ''a system whereby Japanese museums can borrow
or buy fossils from or exchange fossils with China to promote joint studies.''
Another expert said Chinese authorities should draw up a list of which
fossils cannot be exported. ''We would then be able to avoid a lot of
trouble,'' he said.
While the Washington Convention restricts trade in endangered animals,
no global standards exist for fossils, with each country setting its own
At a meeting in September of the Geological Society of Japan, participants
agreed to set up a network among museums to check on the laws of countries
from which fossils and other items are bought.
''It is impossible for one museum to check on the laws of each country,'' one