Can You Buy and Own a Dinosaur Bone? The Law vs the Science


Our imagination, when it comes to imagining how dinosaurs lived, can come up with lots of vivid scenes of dinosaurs stomping and crashing through vegetation. The many movies and multimedia available these days about dinosaurs also add to the images in our minds. All of this is brought a little closer to reality when we see fossils in real life at a museum or have the chance to touch a dinosaur bone. 

You are excited about dinosaur fossils, and you’re also a collector. You want to own a piece of ancient history. 

So the big question is, can you buy and own a dinosaur bone? The short answer is yes, you can. There are, however, some important considerations when it comes to laws and the interests of science. Here’s what to consider:
The law: who holds the rights to dinosaur fossils
Science: is the trade of dinosaur bones a blow to paleontology
Dinosaur understanding – museums and their interest in fossil research and exhibitions for the public
Fossil vendors: where and how can you buy dinosaur fossils

The Law: Who Holds the Rights to Dinosaur Fossils?

Regulations regarding prehistoric fossils vary from one country to another. In the United States, for example, bones that are excavated from federal land are treated as public property. The fossils are held in trust on behalf of the American people by the federal government. The Paleontological Resources Preservation Act declares that only parties holding scientific permits can collect dinosaur fossils. After that, the collectors must store such specimens in a ratified repository where they should be made available to scientists and such interested parties. Ratified repositories include museums, universities, and such research collection institutions. 

The Act is, however, quite lenient in as far as invertebrate and common plant fossils are concerned. The legislation stipulates that private citizens are allowed to collect such remains in reasonable quantities on public land even without a permit. However, fossils collected from publicly owned rocks must not be sold or bartered later. 

Privately owned land, on the other hand, presents a different case. Dinosaur fossils, in countries like Mongolia, are considered to form part of the country’s cultural heritage. Consequently, fossil hunters in Mongolia must not sell such fossils later on, and personal ownership of such fossils is illegal. In America, however, remains excavated from private land legally belong to the landowner. 

In this light, if you are a dedicated fossil hunter, then you must realize that laws concerning prehistoric fossils vary from one country to another. It is, therefore, your duty to obey all applicable laws as legislated in the country where you discovered the fossil.

Real-Life Court Case

The Dinosaur Artist is a book that outlines a real-life court case and seeks to quench human curiosity that loosely hangs on the questions about dinosaur bone ownership. It aspires to find out the lengths we are willing to go and the laws that we are eager to break in our desire to relive the past. Notably, the book looks into one of the strangest court litigations ever: the United States of America vs. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton. The court case was based on the said Tyrannosaurus skeleton that was, allegedly, imported from Mongolia into the United States illegally. 

According to Mongolian laws, all fossils belong to the people. This rule, seemingly, did not matter to Eric Prokopi, a dinosaur fossil hunter who tried to sell the skeleton for about one million US dollars. Even though Eric might have curated collections for actors such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicolas Cage, he was sentenced to three months in prison. The court also ruled that he had to give up all claims to the fossils, as well as many others that he had been accused of possessing illegally. At least this is what the Mongolian constitution stood for, but we shall try to highlight a different perspective as presented by scientists. 

Strong arguments ask us to leave science to scientists, and that we should develop a system that can better protect the few remaining evidence of earthly history. Other opinions stand for enlisting non-science experts, such as field professionals, in the excavation of paleontological resources. The latter arguments insist that there might not be enough paleontologists to excavate or pick up every fossil that is out there. We need enough hunters to gather as many fossils instead of allowing them to weather out, especially since they will not be useful to anyone after they rot. Both arguments, however, agree on one detail: we should have a system where, in as much as we allow the ethical collection and ownership of dinosaur fossils, we should let scientists and museums have them. 

Science: Is the Trade of Dinosaur Bones a Blow to Paleontology?

On the fourth of June 2018, the fossils of a predatory Allosaurus dinosaur were auctioned and sold to the highest bidder in Paris, France. With the skeleton measuring about 30 feet and about seventy percent complete, it is valuable in numerous ways. Like all other fossils, the skeleton is an ambassador from prehistoric times. The reptile whose skeleton was sold might have existed about 150 million years ago. The world back then was different: the planet was significantly warmer, and almost all mammals were smaller than a rabbit. 

Auction companies do realize that many buyers are willing to pay a lot of money to have a rare and scientifically valuable piece of history. Even though only about six dinosaur bones go on the auction market every year, auctioneers have seen increased interest in dinosaur bones and other vertebrate fossils. Prominent fossil collectors include Nicolas Cage and Leonardo DiCaprio. An Allosaurus named Kan, in 2016, was auctioned for about one million Euros. A mammoth skeleton sold for half a million Euros in 2018. 

Additionally, a few months into 2019, two dinosaur bones were jointly auctioned for about three million Euros. All these summations seem like pocket change once you find out that the Chicago Field Museum paid more than eight million US dollars for Sue in 1997. Sue represented an almost complete Tyrannosaurus rex: the only one in history. 

However, even if purchasing rare dinosaur skeletons might sound like a collector’s greatest achievement, buying such fossils presents a few ethical quandaries. Scientists have always tried to halt these kinds of auctions from happening. Seemingly, the idea of having such a valuable specimen in private ownership does not sit well with most paleontologists. 

According to David Polly, a professor of geology at Indiana University, “Fossils were not created to be sold; they represent the rare remains of prehistoric occurrences. Once a fossil gets into the hands of a private owner, it disappears from history since no artist can recreate that.”

Wealthy fossil purchasers can easily outbid museums for many obvious reasons, and such institutions almost always lose to individuals. For instance, museums lack the same level of liquidity that affluent fossil buyers might have, and that easy access to money is all that makes the difference. 

The carnivorous dinosaur, which changed hands in France, was discovered on private land no later than 2015. Upon getting information that the owner wanted to auction it, the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology wrote a letter asking the owner to cancel the scheduled sale. While the buyer’s identity is not known, he or she has stated that the skeleton might be loaned out to museums to give researchers a chance to study them.

However, this assurance is not enough for the scientific community. Peer review is an essential aspect of paleontology. If one expert pens down something about a specific fossil, some of his or her colleagues should also get a chance to inspect the specimen in question. Doing so will require access to the fossils: something that private bone-owners might not allow. 

Geological context is the other important facet of paleontology. Fossils, in most cases, are found harbored in rocks, and the stone is as important as the fossils themselves. To calculate how old a fossil is or what characteristics might have shaped its environment, scientists have to understand its origin. Fossil purchasers might not be able to provide this information. 

Fossil buyers and salespeople have indeed made significant contributions to the field of paleontology. However, scientists are concerned that countries that do not commit to placing valuable fossil specimen in the public trust might be forfeiting a treasure of knowledge. 

Dinosaur Understanding – Museums and Their Interest in Fossil Research and Exhibitions for the Public

Today is arguably the golden age for dinosaur bone understanding and discoveries as more states open up their borders to scientists and paleontology experts. Technological advancements are also helping considerably. Consider CAT scanning, for example, which is used to look inside the dinosaur skulls. Such technology has enabled scientists to have a look at the animal’s brains, sensing organs (eyes and ears), blood vessels, nerves, and sinuses inside the skull. With modern technology, experts can create digital models of the animal. Technology has helped scientists to conclude that particular dinosaur species had pretty large brains. In relation to its body, the reptile’s brain size was close to that of chimps. 

Dinosaurs were smart animals, much more intelligent than most people think. 

A dinosaur’s brains had huge olfactory bulbs; the reptile was, therefore, a good sniffer. It used its sense of smell to prey. Moreover, its cochlea was well adapted to ensure that the animal was good at hearing a wide range of sounds, including the low-frequency ones. Even better, dinosaurs had huge, forward-facing eyes and a significant portion of their brains that controlled their sense of sight. It seems to be a very different image of what we grew up thinking of dinosaurs. The animal not only had brawn but enough intellectual capacity as well. Technology has been very instrumental in shaping this understanding. 

Today might be the best time for dinosaur research. Scientists are finding more dinosaur bones nowadays than they ever did in the past. To put it into the right context, experts are discovering about fifty new species every year. On average, the experts are unearthing a new species every week: not a new skeleton or a new bone, but a whole new species. 

Part of the reason for this burst in dinosaur understanding is that most countries around the globe have opened up their borders to scientists in the recent past. Countries like Mongolia, China, and Argentina, which pride in lots of mountains and deserts, are full of rocks with dinosaur bones. Most of those countries did not easily allow foreign scientists to work a few decades ago. Even worse, those countries did not have enough homegrown experts. Currently, however, there is a considerable group of young paleontologists and such experts in Argentina, Mongolia, China, and other places carefully studying dinosaurs. 

Fossil Vendors: Where and How Can You Buy Dinosaur Fossils

Dinosaur bones are, often, the main center of attraction at history museums, and it cannot be hard to understand why. Ferocious, massive, and so many years old, the reptiles inspire childlike wonder, and you can legally have your fossil specimen of the animal. 

If you are determined to have a bone or two from the Jurassic era, then consider dealing with Mimi Museum. The museum was a lifelong dream of adventurer and entrepreneur Hans Fex. The institute was founded in 2014 when Hans launched a campaign to raise funds for a collection of curated specimens and artifacts. The specimen included artifacts like moon dust, space gems, Viking axes, ancient mummy beads, and dinosaur skeleton fragments. 

However, in a bid to cater to prehistory enthusiasts with specific interests, the museum has also included individual fossil specimens. One incredible thing you purchase from the museum’s geology and fossil collection is a Spinosaurus tooth. The Spinosaurus is one of the biggest and most terrifying carnivorous reptiles to have existed.

Another certified dealer is FossilEra. The company is the largest dropshipping retailer of genuine mineral and fossil specimens. FossilEra prides in a very diverse client base that spans the whole range of educational institutions, collectors, museums, and individuals who might just be looking for a gift. FossilEra dealers provide not only authentic and unparalleled products, but also offer exceptional customer experience. 

Regardless of whether you look at dinosaur bones as wonders of nature or artistic masterpieces, they retrace the events of evolution, especially that of the gigantic terrestrial animals that have since gone into extinction. Whatever your motives are for wanting to own such magnificent fossils, it is clear that dealing in such artifacts is a big deal. 

If you are determined to own a dinosaur bone, then you should consider dealing with Mimi Museum. The institute, which was launched in 2014, has included individual fossil specimens in its category of artifacts. FossilEra is the other certified dinosaur bone dealer. The company provides not only authentic products but also offers exceptional customer experience. 

Even though there is no legislation in place designed to ensure that all ancient fossils are first handed over to certified repository institutions, it is crucial to understand that the records of such findings should be kept well. Moreover, both professional and private fossil hunters should carry out the whole excavation process with absolute care. 

Holding a part of history is invaluable; thus, the primary motivation behind owning fossils should seek to assist further research in science. Some repository institutions, like the Natural History Museum, try to avoid purchasing such artifacts from the commercial market. It is because some fossils sold on the commercial scene might have been dug up without recording some of the details of the findings. Failing to record such information means that humanity will lose some essential scientific information. 

Conclusion

We have always marveled over dinosaurs, imaging how other species lived alongside animals as big as thirty feet. However, spatial asteroids wiped this evolutionary landmark off the earth. In this light, given the high commercial and scientific value placed on fossil specimens, different countries have legislated different laws regarding how professionals handle the skeletons. Therefore, dedicated fossil hunters must then spend time to understand all applicable laws in a particular area before proceeding. 

Hunting and selling of dinosaur bones sound like the ideal pastime for an enthusiast; however, such trade raises a few ethical concerns. Scientists believe that this is not the way since the idea of having an essential specimen in private hands does not guarantee enough research and study on the material. Two suggestions have, therefore, sprung up. Some arguments propose the idea of leaving science to scientists. Other suggestions recommend enjoining a few non-science experts in the excavation of dinosaur fossils. Both opinions, outwardly, agree on one detail: we should let scientists and other concerned repository institutions have the fossils first before selling them. 

We must be living in the golden age in as far as understanding dinosaur fossils are concerned. In recent times, more and more countries have opened up their borders to paleontology experts and other scientists. Given that technology is rapidly advancing, scientists are discovering more and more specimen bones. Regardless of your attitude towards dinosaur fossils, they represent a huge step in evolution. It, therefore, very important to realize that holding such pieces of history is a privilege.  

Michael Haralson

I'm the owner of Adventure Dinosaurs website. Although I have an extensive business background, I am fascinated with dinosaurs and have been since childhood. I'm fortunate enough to have visited fossil museums in Europe (UK, Germany, and Spain), the US (California, Texas) and in Asia (China). Currently, I'm location independent with a home base in Kirkkonummi, Finland.

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