Sunday, 14 October 2012

Fossil Thefts From the Western United States

Dinosaur Fossils Stolen from Utah
Officials from the American Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are blaming the Internet and the web auctions for an increase in vertebrate fossil thefts from public land in the United States.
Federal officials from the BLM in conjunction with the local law enforcement agencies are investigating another incident of stealing fossilised dinosaur bones in what has been termed a "brazen theft" from what was thought to be a secret location in Central Utah where a team of scientists were excavating a number of specimens.
Sadly, such incidents are becoming increasingly common as amateurs and other fossil prospectors try to extract fossils, either for their own collections but more likely to sell on at a huge profit.
Experts say the raid on the Utah location is another glaring example of fossil theft, a widespread problem in the age of the Internet, where auction sites and specialist forums for fossil sales are common place. This problem has recently hit the headlines when a Tarbosaurus exhibit put up for auction in New York was seized after the sale as it is suspected that this specimen was removed illegally from Mongolia.
Speaking on behalf of the BLM, paleontologist Scott Foss stated that thefts were now very common and that any such activity for commercial gain from unscrupulous individuals was extremely sad.
Secret Locations
Foss doesn't want to reveal exactly where the theft occurred, he did not want to give away this location as more excavation work at the site is likely to take place. However, he was prepared to meet reporters at a separate location, where a team of scientists are working on another dinosaur discovery. At this site, he explained to journalists how the palaeontologists carefully excavate the precious fossils and then protect them with burlap and plaster jackets to protect the exposed parts of the fossil from bad weather and as preparation for lifting and removal.
Stolen or Vandalised
Commenting on the fossil theft Mr Foss stated that thieves had discovered the burlap wrapped fossil in their protective jackets and broken some open to remove the fossil bones. Other bones at the site were vandalised, whether this was deliberate or simply the result of very poor fossil excavation technique is hard to determine.
What would somebody do with stolen dinosaur bones? Sadly there are plenty of people around ready to pay large sums of money to get their hands on a rare specimen. Prices of upwards of $20,000 dollars have been reported for individual dinosaur bones. It seems there is plenty of money to be made from the sale of vertebrate fossils.
Stolen from Public Land
Fossils are commonly sold on eBay, on private collector Web sites, and sites run by commercial companies. But the BLM suspects much of the merchandise is stolen from public land.
Under U.S. legislation, collecting fossils is allowed on public land for personal use if the fossils are remnants of plants, such as petrified wood, or of invertebrate animals, such as trilobites, ammonites or belemnites.
However, collecting with the sole intention of selling is not allowed.
Against the Law to Collect Dinosaur Fossils on Public Land
For dinosaur-related fossils on public land, even dinosaur footprints, it's against the law to collect them at all.
The BLM says many Internet buyers either don't realise or don't care that they're encouraging theft of treasures owned by the public. Such acts not only deny scientists the opportunity to carefully remover and study a fossil, but also deny the public from ever seeing that fossil on display.
On private land there are no laws against collecting and selling fossils. Buying fossils on sites such as EBay can be fraught with problems, especially for the unwary. Although there are a number of genuine and legitimate retailers, our own team members at Everything Dinosaur have come across incidents of fossils not turning out to be quite what they seem. Crocodile teeth have been readily passed off as Spinosauridae and some of the descriptions given have at the very least been very misleading.
Harsh Penalties from the Authorities
Thieves can expect harsh punishments from the U.S. if they are caught and the same can be said for the dealers and sellers too.

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