The market for large dinosaur fossils

from Market Design at on November 28, 2022 at 11:35AM

Should fossils be regarded as national treasures, or as natural resources, or perhaps works of art? 

The NY Times has the story:

As Dinosaur Fossils Fetch Millions, There’s Many a Bone to Pick. Fossils are a multimillion-dollar business, bringing legal disputes, nondisclosure agreements and trademarks to the world of paleontology.  By Julia Jacobs and Zachary Small

"Fossil hunting has become a multimillion-dollar business, much to the chagrin of academic paleontologists who worry that specimens of scientific interest are being sold off to the highest bidders.

"Things were simpler at the beginning of his career, Larson said, when universities, museums and a smaller group of private collectors were the only ones who cared about buying pieces of natural history.

"It was not until 1997, with the sale of Sue, that dinosaurs started to be viewed as potential centerpieces of auctions.

"Many scientists are aghast at the growing commercial market, and increasingly anxious that scientifically important specimens will disappear into private mansions. Paleontologists are also concerned that the market could encourage illegal digging, and that American landowners — who, by law, generally own the fossils found on their land — would favor commercial fossil hunters over academic researchers.

“Ranchers who used to let you go and collect specimens are now wondering why they should let you have it for free,” said Jingmai O’Connor, a Field Museum paleontologist, “when a commercial collector would dig up the bones and split the profit.”

"Fossil diggers and dealers in the commercial sphere counter that if not for them, these specimens on private land would be left to erode further, never to be found.

"The United States is an outlier legally. Other dinosaur-rich nations, including Mongolia and Canada, have laws making fossils the property of the government. Thomas Carr, a paleontologist at Carthage College in Wisconsin, said he believed that the lack of protections for “natural heritage” puts scientists in the United States at a disadvantage."