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RE: An Immodest Proposal for using paleoart to help suppress fossil poaching

Interesting and well stated.

Many fossil collectors have not considered the fact that (in most cases) an 
original artwork is as rare, unique, one-of-a-kind, irreproducible, 
irreplaceable, and as real as fossil is.

~Tiffany Miller Russell

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-DINOSAUR@usc.edu [mailto:owner-DINOSAUR@usc.edu] On Behalf Of 
Sent: Tuesday, November 19, 2013 12:55 PM
To: vrtpaleo@usc.edu; dinosaur@usc.edu
Subject: An Immodest Proposal for using paleoart to help suppress fossil 

While reading the NYT article on dinosaur poaching 
 at the JHU 
library it occurred to me how deeply dysfunctional the situation is. And how 
correcting the distortion could help solve the problem. I discussed this 
matter with some folks at the LA SVP meeting. 

The problem is that criminals are making lots of money stealing fossils and 
selling them to people with money who have minimal ethics or lots of 
ignorance in fulfilling their obsession to own original specimens. This is 
to other unethical activities such as ivory poaching and acquisition, and 
shark fin soup that has been wiping out shark populations. 

Meanwhile paleoartists who are an asset to paleo have virtually no adult 
market for original and high-end reproduction art, and as a result are often 
financially stressed.  

A way to address both problems is to flip the situation, so that owning 
original fossils becomes to be seen as unconscionable, and owning 2-D and 3-D 
paleoart is seen as in vogue. 

This is already true to a fair extent with wildlife. Many like to have 
pictures of egrets on their walls, rather than their feathers for hats. Same 
elephant art rather than ivory.
Paleo actually has an advantage here, in that some animal exploitation 
stems from art, ivory carving being the primary example. Paleoart in no way 
contributes to fossil poaching, and can instead be used to help suppress it.  

Anti-exploitation campaigns can be quickly effective. Sales of shark fin 
soup in Asia have suddenly dropped dramatically as it is becoming to be seen 
as unethical, in part because of a PR campaign featuring some celebrities.    

It would be advisable for SVP and other concerned groups to mount a 
long-term effort to promote acquisition of paleoart as an ethical alternative 
acquiring scientifically valuable fossils. Both by the stick of shaming those 
who do the latter, and the carrot of making paleoart stylish. How this could 
be done in view of the limited funds available is not clear, but there are 
numerous possibilities. It would probably be a good idea for SVP et al. to 
hire a marketing consultant to figure that out. One idea would be to have SVP 
set up a booth at major fossil shows that both criticize inappropriate 
purchase of fossils and promotes paleoart in its place (with contact info for 
paleoartists available). If fossil shows balk at that then go to the press and 
shame them. Also promote the basic idea with the press. Articles in the 
NYT, WashPost, USA Today, Discover, SciAmer, so on would have an impact. Also 
need to get into the Asian and European media. Coverage by CNN etc. J 
Kirkland suggested getting a celebrity involved (possibilities would include 
Danson [father was a leading SW archaeologist  whom Ned Colbert introduced me 
to in Flagstaff in 91], Geena Davis, and Laura Dern [starred in JP of 

Consider a press release to the world press. It would urge people that 
instead of buying scientifically valuable specimens, they do something along 
lines of the following. Rather than spend six figures or more paying to 
compensate someone for having ripped a tarbosaur out of the Nemegt, contribute 
most of that amount the paleontology projects. Also, spend five figures on a 
painting or sculpture of Tyrannosaurus bataar. And/or casts of the 
specimen. The art, etc component is very important. Humans are 
That’s why we have set up civilizations. That’s why people crave collecting 
stuff for their very own. Just telling people with money that they can’t have 
dinosaur things and should only spend the money on helping dinosaur science 
is psychologically problematic. It is best to offer them another means of 
acquiring something they can display in their abode. It’s basic human 

A promotional line could be something along the lines of DON’T BUY DINOSAUR 
FOSSILS, BUY DINOSAUR ART. (That might be too narrow focus though, because 
it excludes nondino artists. On the other hand I assume that dinosaurs are 
the main target of paleopoachers, but perhaps I am wrong about that. This can 
be sorted out.)

It is one thing to complain about fossil poaching. To really do something 
about it means presenting those with money to spend with a morally, 
scientifically and artistically superior alternative. So to really alleviate 
poaching problem, it is going to be necessary to stop leaving paleoartists to 
fend for themselves (the annual art awards do little or nothing to promote 
paleoart to the public, has not worked yet), and exploit their talents to help 
get people to spend on art and science rather than the fossils themselves.