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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.
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.
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
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
That's not all, but enough for me.
All the best
"The Wise Man is like a bamboo tree;
simple, upright, and useful, but hollow inside"
Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra
Università degli Studi di Milano
Via Mangiagalli 34
I 20133 Milano
have a look at our Triassic website at