Saturday, May 23, 2009

Fossil trading

I have previously briefly mentioned the publication of the new primate fossil, Ida. One thing I didn't mention in the blogpost was that the fossil was not a new finding, but rather a fossil bought from a private collector and then studied.

The Guardian has more on this.

Unearthed: the murky world of fossil collecting

This week, a 47m-year-old primate hailed as a missing link was unveiled, but it took an astonishing fee to bring it to light


I have some deep ideological problems with the thought of fossils being in the hands of private collectors without scientists having access to them. This means that any potential knowledge we might gain from those fossils is unavailable to the rest of humanity, until the owner either sells the fossils or allows others access to them. There is also a risk of damage to the fossils due to wrong handling and storage.

In Denmark there has since 1990 been a law which requires that all fossils should be turned in at a state run naturalistic museum which will evaluate it, and see if it is considered rare or valuable enough for the State of Denmark to buy it. If that's the case, the finder will receive a finders fee, depending upon the value of the object. Otherwise the finder can keep the object.

Up until now, approximately 450 fossils has been acquired by the state, gaining the status of danekræ (Dane creatures).

This seems like a reasonable way of doing it. The finder will either get to keep the fossil, or will get compensated, while the scientists (and the public) will have access to any rare or valuable findings.

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