Hollywood stars and other wealthy individuals are reportedly pricing dinosaur fossils out of museums and the hands of scientists, resulting in paleontologists calling for a worldwide halt of private sales.
According to the Guardian, a “booming market for specimens, driven by their popularity with wealthy private collectors, including Hollywood stars, is pushing up prices and putting them out of reach of museums and scientists,” prompting paleontologists to call for a worldwide sale halt.
Fossils of “celebrity species” reportedly fetch millions of dollars, “with a tyrannosaurus rex skeleton fetching up to $10m,” a triceratops’s skull up to $400,000, and a diplodocus up to $1.1m.
Jerry Smith, who works in Michigan University’s department of zoology, is one expert complaining about the celebrity market for dinosaur fossils.
“When specimens go into a private home or collection, our understanding, interpretation or discovery of new information they contain will never reach the scientific community,” Smith declared, while Catherine Badgley, the former president of the US Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology, proclaimed, “The sale of all fossils is inappropriate.”
“Many, particularly vertebrate fossils, are rarely common, and it’s certainly not the case for dinosaurs. The commodification is in principle inappropriate because it motivates unscrupulous people,” she explained. “[Tyrannosaurus bataar] fossils overall are extremely rare, and even if half from this really early period are going into private collections, then that’s an enormous amount of really important information that’s being lost.”
Badgely added, “There isn’t a strong link between expensive trophy specimens and an increase in the science of paleontology. If anything, they’re seen more for their rarity and economic value than for their scientific information. It’s not necessary for people to become interested in paleontology by having a unique specimen that’s theirs and theirs alone.”
In 2015, Hollywood actor Nicolas Cage returned a $276,000 Tyrannosaurus skull he had purchased to the Mongolian government after it was revealed that the skull had been illegally taken from the country.
Along with Cage, Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe are also reportedly collectors of dinosaur fossils, while “interest has picked up among Chinese buyers over the last few years.”