US News: Paleontologists deplore sales to private dinosaurs that escape science and public

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while a Triceratops will be sold at Drouot, scientists and conservatives regret that these giant fossils are acquired by private collectors.

  Les paléontologues déplorent les ventes à des privés de dinosaures qui échappent à la science et au public © Supplied by FranceInfo

Rich collectors disbursing millions to acquire dinosaurs' skeletons: these auctions, one of which is held Thursday, October 21 at Drouot in Paris for a Triceratops, desolate conservative and paleontologists, who attend helpless. Departure of these fossils in private collections. To the detriment of museums.

"What is sad is that we can not compete," deplores the paleontologist Francis Donhon, shortly before the Thursday of "Big John", the biggest known tricherratops, whose price is estimated between 1, 2 and 1.5 million euros.

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"For us, this represents about 20 or 25 years of acquisition budget," says the AFP the scientist, conservative and director of the Toulouse Natural History Museum.

Big John should escape science

as many of his congeners authorized for sale, "Big John" should fall into the hands of a private collector, and potentially escape science and museums, so to the general public. In this case nevertheless, the frustration felt seems less. "There we do not care, for Triceratops, we have plenty of it!", Pascal Godefroit, paleontologist at the Royal Institute of Natural Sciences of Belgium. The species is known and "we already have complete skeletons of Triceratops," adds Francis Dourushon. "It's just that this one is a little bigger."

"But even if it is a Triceratops, there are always aspects we know less well," says Annelise Folie, conservative of the paleontology collections of the Royal Institute of Natural Sciences of Belgium. "Some bones may be better preserved and can bring new information."

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Unknown species can pass under the

radar "nobody can say in advance if it has or not information that is not", abounds Nour-Eddine Jalil, paleontologist at the natural history museum from Paris. "But it's a lesser evil," he concedes, because the specimen sold in Drouot has been analyzed upstream by professional paleontologists. It is far from the case of other dinosaur skeletons on the market: specimens are often poorly identified, for lack of appropriate scientific expertise.

"Half of the pieces that are on sale, it's great anything!", Is Pascal Godefroit. "Too often you have interesting parts, but are poorly identified or damaged in the air during reconstructions, because the bones are mixed with plastic for example." Unknown or poorly known species can pass under the radars. "If it is a new species, the loss is immense, since it is not even aware that it existed on earth," says Annelise Folie.

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But these fossils "constitute our natural heritage" and "are so many clues that tell us about the evolution of the earth", insists Steve Brusate, american paleontologist, author of the book the triumph and the fall of the dinosaurs, translated into 21 languages ​​and just published in France.

The question of access to the public

These auctions also pose the issue of access to the public. "Showing a triceratops in a museum is lighting the vocations in the children's eyes", testifies to the director of the Museum of Toulouse. "When I was a teenager, the T-Rex Sue skeleton was exposed to the Chicago Field Museum. See him helped make me want to become paleontologist", remembers Steve Brusate, consultant for the Film Jurassic World 3 (on The screens in 2022). The destiny of the scientist could have been quite different if the dinosaur had stocked in the living room of a rich businessman, he says.

This type of business has existed since man finds fossils, but the first component of Jurassic Park, in the 1990s generated a new craze, especially with celebrities. It is currently impossible to force purchasers to leave their specimen available to scientists to study it. But sometimes we happen to "work in good intelligence," said Pascal Godefroit.

In addition, this trade allows to "update" some fossils, in the United States, in particular: the fact of being able to sell them (under certain conditions) can motivate the realization of excavations in some countries, recalls Nour-Eddine Jalil.

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