March 9, 2009
Auctions of dinosaurs are very controversial affairs. Many of these fossils are beautiful specimens that have remained in private hands for years (“Cliff” the Triceratops is an exception). With the economic downturn, it seems that it is easier than ever to walk off with a priceless fossil for cheap.
During a recent auction in Vancouver, Canada, for instance, a complete Edmontosaurus skeleton valued at $500,000 sold for $150,000. A Triceratops skull with a price tag of $200,000 was also on the auction block and brought in only $60,000. It’s not pocket change, but for a unique specimen that’s a steal for a private owner.
Museums, however, cannot so easily acquire these specimens. Beyond the dilemma of whether to effectively support auctions by purchasing fossils from them most museums just don’t have the money. Shrinking revenues and budget cuts at varying levels of government are putting the squeeze on institutions all over the country. It is hard enough to keep staff employment, much less build collections.
Those with the extra spending money can keep fossils out of museums and in private collections, and this trend is likely to continue. It has just been announced that a unique skeleton of Dryosaurus, one of only two complete specimens known in the world, is soon going to be sold at auction in New York. It has been in a private collection since 1993, and unless a museum coughs up the cash for the skeleton, it will likely be beyond the reach of paleontologists.
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