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🔑 Key Takeaways

  1. Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons are valuable parts of scientific history and are protected by law on public land. Experts study T. rex for science and passion, but they cannot be sold for profit.
  2. Finding and selling dinosaur fossils on private land involves obtaining permission, investing time and money in excavation, and splitting the profits with landowners. The value of a fossil depends on its size, condition, and completeness, and they are bought by museums and collectors from places like the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in South Dakota.
  3. The discovery of Sue opened up opportunities for individuals to make a living off of fossil hunting, and success can be found with dedication and perseverance in the field.
  4. Excavating and selling dinosaur fossils is challenging, but creating replicas can be lucrative and protecting the artistry involved can benefit amateur paleontologists. Persistence in passion is key.
  5. Private funding for paleontologists can level the playing field and promote scientific research, countering the negative impact of the commercial market for dinosaur fossils.
  6. Commercial fossil hunting undermines the study of organisms and puts education at risk. Paleontologists stress the importance of uncovering the educational value of fossils, while commercial hunters argue they save fossils from disappearing in the ground.

📝 Podcast Summary

The Value and Protection of Tyrannosaurus Rex Skeletons

Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons are a valuable find and excavation can take thousands of hours of work. Most of the 140 T. rex skeletons excavated to date were found in the Hell Creek Formation in the US, which is publicly owned land and protected by law. Fossils found on public land are collected for science and education and cannot be sold. Experts like Thomas Carr, Ph.D. and Director of the Carthage Institute of Paleontology study T. rex for the betterment of science and their passion for the study. In October 2020, a T. rex skeleton named 'Stan' was sold for just under $32 million at Christie's auction in New York City.

Private Dinosaur Fossil Hunting and Selling Processes Explained.

On private land, finding a dinosaur fossil allows someone to sell it on the open market. Paleontologists like Peter Larson must get permission from landowners and agree to split the value of the dinosaur skeleton once found. Fossil scouting is difficult and can take months to years, requiring intensive excavation processes and significant investment. Despite overhead costs, Larson's net profit is around 20% of the sale price. The value of a fossil depends on its size, condition, and completeness. Museums and collectors go to places like the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in Hill City, South Dakota, to buy dinosaur skeletons.

The Profitability of Fossil Hunting after the Discovery of Sue, the T. rex Skeleton

The discovery of Sue, the most complete T. rex skeleton, and its subsequent sale for $8.4 million marked a turning point in the profitability of fossil hunting. It led to an influx of dinosaur dreamers like Clayton Phipps, a cowboy turned fossil hunter, who saw the potential to make a living off of dinosaur fossils. Phipps found success in 2003 with the discovery of a rare horned dinosaur skull, which gave him a year's wages and inspired him to pursue fossil hunting as a career. Eventually, he stumbled upon the remains of a young T. rex and Triceratops, entangled in what is considered to be a deadly brawl, which cemented his status as one of the most successful fossil hunters.

The Challenges of Excavating and Selling Dinosaur Fossils

Amateur paleontologists face challenges in excavating and selling dinosaur fossils even if they manage to get their hands on one-of-a-kind fossils like Clayton Phipps did, which he struggled to sell for nearly 20 years. Finding buyers is difficult, and even if fossils are sold for millions like Stan, the original owner may not benefit from the sale, as seen with Peter Larson's experience. However, creating replicas can be lucrative and a registered copyright and trademark can protect the artistry involved in making them. Overall, while the process of excavating and selling dinosaur fossils is challenging, it can also be rewarding for those who persist in their passion.

Private individuals and celebrities invested in dinosaur fossils for academic research

Private individuals like Nathan Myhrvold and celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicolas Cage are willing to shell out big bucks for dinosaur fossils. Myhrvold not only collects fossils but also accompanies paleontologists on digs, has written peer-reviewed papers, and funds scientific expeditions. His grants of around $500,000 per year to paleontologists have resulted in at least 10 T. rex discoveries all for academic research. This effort aims to level the playing field for scientists as they can’t compete with the budgets of commercial fossil hunters. Moreover, the commercial market for dinosaurs has had a devastating impact on scientific research. Buying casts of dinosaur skeletons is a cheaper way for museums and people to get access to these prehistoric specimens.

The Threat of Commercial Fossil Hunters

Commercial fossil hunters collecting fossils for profit is a threat to the study of paleontology. More than 60 percent of T. rex fossils have been found by commercial hunters, and paleontologists are only allowed to study fossils in the public trust. This means our natural heritage is being auctioned off for top dollar, making it difficult for scientists to have a high enough sample size to understand organisms. While commercial hunters argue that they are saving fossils from disappearing in the ground, paleontologists stress the importance of uncovering the educational value of these fossils. The issue is not exclusive to T. rex; many other rare fossils, like Dynonacus, have been lost to private individuals.