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Re: Paleo-Conference in Benevento (long, but with interesting points).



Dear Louis, Fabio and all others,
I tried to resist, as far as I was able, but now I have to enter in this spiny thread.
Precisations:


1) as Fabio correctly wrote, any fossil is state property and cannot be collected by private amateurs, apart for (if I'm not wrong) in Trento and Bolzano /Bozen county , where you may collect a certain amount (in kilos, as for mushrooms :-)) of non vertebrate fossils presumably given that you must have gained/bought a permission or licence before.

2) as Fabio correctly wrote, fossils cannot be collected, moved, casted, or photographed without permission, if you get the permission and you publish photos in a book or journal for lucrative purposes (that is you earn money with the photos) you have also to pay a fee to the State. If you publish them in a scientific, non lucrative (that is any peer reviewed scientific journal like JVP, Palaeontology etc. etc.) where you do not make money with the photo, you do not have to pay anything. But you should have the permission anyway . This applies for everything has been found below the ground. Remember that this old law was created for archaeological stuff (fossils where added only when an important triassic fish collection was sold a century ago or so to Natural History Musem of London by some ill-advised people), and etruscan/roman pottery (either true or faked) has always been haemorragically sold out by "privates". This is the reason for the strict law, that was blindly extended to fossils without any modification.
Bringing this to its extreme, even who takes a photo of the Coliseum is making something illegal. However, it is clear that in most cases good sense is applied.


Conclusions:

3) This leads us to the real point. The more or less strict application depends greatly by the men or wimen who direct of the local department of Soprintendenza (the deputed office, I don't remember the English translation) so, in a county things may be quite different from another county. Take also into account that they are mostly archaeologists, with little or no idea of what is a fossil and how it has to be managed with.
For instance, nearly all professional paleontologists in many universities in Lombardy as in other italian counties, should be outlaws because the photos in their scientific papers are published without prior written permission in most cases. On the other hand, if ALL professionals would ask for the permission to publish ANY photo (huh, think about forams or ammonites!!), either all research will stop, or the various Soprintendenza will be flooded by requests, no more room for employees, only for paper sheets, and all people will die by age, long before giving or receiving the permission. This is understood, here and there, and credited people can publish photos **for non-lucrative purposes** simply by filling and signing a proper form or a disclaimer to the Museum or other institution where the fossils are stored, giving proper credits in the paper.
If, however, the head of the local Office has a different mind and/or the fossil is a superstar, or there is any controversy, things may change a lot and can become very, very harsh (and dangerous).


A final word concerning private collectors

Louis Rey wrote :
<<As a contrast in England for example there's no protection whatsoever to
fossil finds and then all the scientists have to go around the Isle of
Wight begging for specimens to private collectors.>>

and Fabio replied:

"The positive side is that private collectors work without a salary and have
time to do the extensive work in the field that the few professional
paleontologists on charge cannot do. Collaborative private collectors are
the best friends of paleontology and professional paleontologists. Here
they are outlaws."

I agree only in part with you Fabio: In many cases professionals cannot do field work because there is little or no financial support, and supporting field work could be a better solution to many problems.Surely I agree that we owe to private collectors MOST of the important findings, but remember Ying -Yang of the mighty Tao: there is good because there is evil.
Along with many good willing and devoted people, at least here in Italy there are many, many thiefs and smugglers who sell material. And not so few people don't sell fossils but cultivate an insane sense of possession, keeping fossils like they were stolen Raffaello's paintings in their secret "bunker" underground. When they die the collection is sold out or scattered away by their sons/daughters. Lots of scientific informations lost forever.
And sometimes, strange things happen to fossils in the hands of some private collectors:
Louis and all you others, look at the first published photos of Scipionyx. it had a much longer tail than in Nature and other more recent photos (and in the exhibited specimen). What ever happened?
Little "Ciro" (Scipionyx nickname) was "improved" by the finder by adding a faked tail. It has been removed by Cristiano dal Sasso during study.
In conclusion a less restrictive legislation is urgently required but good surveillance is also necessary.
I like a lot the way of some German laenders in which privates can look for fossils, and there is a government officer (a paleontologist) who checks the findings and decides what is relevant for science and should not be kept or sold away and leave other fossils to the collector.
It is perhaps the only way to avoid being chocked between the risk of fossil robberies/loss/faking destruction and the immobilism of some institutions.
That's not all, but enough for me.
All the best


                                                        Silvio



"The Wise Man is like a bamboo tree;
                simple, upright, and useful, but hollow inside"

                                                Lao Tzu

Silvio Renesto

Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra
Università degli Studi di Milano
Via Mangiagalli 34
I 20133 Milano
Italy
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        Silvio.Renesto@unimi.it
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