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Nothing Besides Remains: Preserving the Scientific and Cultural Value of Paleontological Resources in the United States

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Document pages: 30 pages

Abstract: After a half century s lull, the last thirty years have seen a great resurgence in the public s interest in fossils, in part because of the popularity of the film Jurassic Park, and also because new paleontological controversies grabbed the public s attention. This revival has resulted in a considerable commercial market for fossils, previously considered the province of museums and universities. Collectors will pay premium prices to have a piece of prehistory in their own homes. Anyone can buy a dinosaur fossil on eBay, from a fragment for $5 to a skeleton for $2,000. The growing commercial market calls for a comprehensive system to govern the collection and trade of fossils. However, the choice of regulatory route depends on which aspect of a fossil is valued most highly. There are at least three ways to assign value to a fossil: economic, scientific, and cultural. Preserving one type of value may limit or destroy the others. For example, digging up a fossil as quickly as possible to rush it to market may maximize economic value, but it can destroy scientific value. Any successful comprehensive regulation of fossil collection and trading must address these conflicting value systems and resolve them within the existing private property regime.

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