So it's not surprising that there is a flourishing and lucrative trade in fossils today. People raid sites that are known to contain are and/or beautiful fossils, no matter who the official owner might be. (It's the same in gemstones, of course.)
Unlike gemstones, fossils often contain immense and unique scientific information, and any scientist will tell you that the best place for a fossil is in some scientist's laboratory and then in a public museum. Since neither scientists or museums have miney to spare, this results in tension, especially when really valuable fossils are locked up in a private collector's basement where he can legally deny access for scientific study. (It's almost always a "he".)
Collectors, traders, and buyers will respond that many specimens do in fact end up in museums, and that specimens that would otherwise have not been discovered have been revealed by professional collectors. There are some dramatic examples:
Having said all that, there's a tremendous but unknown casualty rate among superb fossils that are ruined during clumsy collecting, damaged by poor preparation, and sometimes faked beyond recognition.
There is nothing much to be done about the tension between commerce and science. The best thing is to have a political decision with proper legislation that will define rules in each country, state, etc., etc., for prospecting, collecting, trading, selling, and donating fossils, and and then those rules have to be enforced. Chaos probably leads to more destruction than clear guidelines, whether those guidelines are perceived as too restrictive or too lax.
Last updated October 15, 2004
Links checked September 30, 2005.
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