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RE: To have and to hold, not much more though

> From: owner-dinosaur@usc.edu [mailto:owner-dinosaur@usc.edu]On Behalf Of
> Beyer, Eric
> There seems to be some discussion over the on-line sale of fossils
> to private owners.  Some are opposed to this idea because it can make
> items inaccessible to the scientific community, but how accessible are
> the items that have been collected to date??

It is true that the vast majority of specimens in any museum are in
collections rather than on display: however, they are still accessible to
visiting researchers and so forth.  And, despite what people might think,
the vast majority of fossil specimens are NOT display-worthy: the type of
_Allosaurus fragilis_, for example, is just a few bones that would fit in a

[However, I want to point out something lost in some of these discussions: a
museum is obliged to care for its specimens for posterity (and one which
fails to would get a really bad reputation!!), while there is no such
obligation for a private collector.]

> Many museums that have huge storage facilities that show off discoveries
> from
> the early 1900's or earlier, the only issue is that they are
> still in field
> jackets!
> How many 'discoveries' are waiting to be re-discovered?
> Will there ever be a push to uncover these items and bring them to light??

That would be nice, and a worthy project for slow field years.  However, as
with lots of things, money is a MAJOR factor.

It takes time (labor $$) and equipment (more $$) to properly prepare a
specimen out of a jacket.  Most museums do not have huge chunks of money
lying around in the coffers of the paleobiology department.  Most of the
money they have has to be devoted to immediate priorities: staff salaries,
equipment costs, research costs, collections management (bones lying in
draws STILL require maintanance, to keep them safe from damage, to repair
them, etc.), development, etc.  The research staff will generally have
particular projects which interest them the most, and these will obviously
be their own priority.

Furthermore, as the Smithsonian _Triceratops_ recovery team have discovered,
exhibits mounted in styles typical of the early 20th Century are in serious
danger of needing some major repairs and conservation.  These specimens will
need help now, while those in jackets are protected.

That last point is fairly significant: specimens still in a good field
jacket need minimum maintanence, and thus minimum expenses.

Now, personally, I think it would be a good idea to hold off on ripping open
all the Marsh-era jackets right now.  Within a decade I expect that the CAT
scan technology and protocols being developed in the research on "Sue" and
others might be extraordinarily helpful in working on these specimens.  By
getting some idea of what's in the blocks prior to physical preparation
could help museum staff prioritize which jackets get prepared first, which
second, and so on.

> Selfish Question:
> Will talented 'amateurs' be able to lessen the ever widening gap?

Call up your local museum and inquire: they might well be able to use the

                Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
                Vertebrate Paleontologist
Department of Geology           Director, Earth, Life & Time Program
University of Maryland          College Park Scholars
                College Park, MD  20742
Phone:  301-405-4084    Email:  tholtz@geol.umd.edu
Fax (Geol):  301-314-9661       Fax (CPS-ELT): 301-314-7843