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After long deliberations, and at least one unsuccessful purchase effort, the Trustees finally approved the recommendation of Sir Richard Owen and authorised payment of 4 50 from the 1862 budget of the Museum and 250 from the following year's budget to purchase the Archaeopteryx specimen and a number of other Solnhofen fossils in Haberlein's collection. For the total sum of 700, the British Museum acquired an outstanding collection of 1,703 specimens, but the prize, of course, was the feathered...

The case of the stolen tooth whorl

Helicoprion bessonowi is one of the world's great enigmas. When it was found in the Russian Ural Mountains in 1899 it aroused great curiosity in the world of natural history. It was a single, curled row of shark's teeth, some 125 in all, which looked more like an ammonite than a shark's jaw. Each tooth was serrated and overlapped the front of its predecessor. Helicoprion whorls indicate that the whole shark must have been a monster, perhaps 8-12 metres in length. We can only hypothesise that...

Jinzhou

Alan and the team moved on to Jinzhou to meet with Du Wenya, arguably China's largest private fossil collector. In January 2000, he opened the first private fossil museum in China, the Jinzhou Wenya Museum, to display his collection of more than 10 000 specimens. The museum was set up on the proposal of Professor Hou Lianhai, a noted palaeontologist who specialises in fossil birds. Du's collection contains the first specimens of Confuciusornis, and the only known specimen of Confuciusornis dui,...

References

Missing dinosaur skulls raise new fears of smuggling in Moscow. Nature 384 499. 1998. Moscow's 'missing fossils' come under new scrutiny. Nature 391 724. 1999. Fossil dealer charged over Russian cache. Nature 397 189. Ackerman, J. 1998. Dinosaurs take wing. The origin of birds. National Geographic 194 74-99. Boyce, J.B. 1994. Amateur and commercial collecting in palaeontology. Dinofest, Proceedings of a conference for the general public. Paleontological Society Special...

Searching for clues in downtown London

Chasing up one of the brumours we were told, we go down to central London to look for a shop rumoured to sell curios and antiquities from the collection of Lord Alistair McAlpine 'Erebus', named after the mysterious and isolated volcano in Antarctica. We think we might find some interesting fossils there, if it's still in existence. We found the place, going by an address we had been given, but there is no obvious entrance to the building, nor any signs of the shop's...

The German connection

We had come to Germany to meet up with a well-known fossil dealer in Hamburg who had been implicated in previous suspect fossil dealings, to see if he had any information that might help us. One of the most notorious cases of fossil theft from museums in recent years is that at the Russian Palaeon-tological Institute in Moscow. The case was first reported internationally in the science journal Nature Feder amp Abbott 1994 . Several well-preserved fossil amphibian skulls from Russia were stolen...

Liaoning a hot spot for fossil smuggling

The discovery in 1991 of the famous Liaoning sites of the Yixian Formation, marked the beginning of a series of important palaeontological discoveries that would change our views on the evolution of birds and the biology of dinosaurs. The sites yielded a series of extremely well-preserved early birds, with feather patterns intact see Ackerman 1998 , which bridged the longstanding hiatus in avian evolution from the oldest bird, the German Archaeopteryx, to modern birds. In 1996, a paper...

The Future of the Fossil Industry

Among palaeontologists and those who know, these things Ediacaran fossils are like ancient illuminated manuscripts. They are relics from the very beginnings of complex life on Earth. There's nothing like them anywhere else. So they're incredibly sought after, extremely valuable, expensive to buy and of course illegal to take out of the State Professor Tim Flannery, Director of South Australian Museum, ABC radio interview 19 10 00 . A sketch of my trilobite see page 205 . The specimen is 7 mm...

The German police and fossil seizures

We visit Chief Superintendent Eduard Amrien, a member of the environmental division for the state region. His jurisdiction spreads over the whole country on matters of fauna, flora, fossils or other environmental issues. Steve chatted with Amrien in German, explaining that he too was a law enforcement officer, a specialist in fossil-related crime. Amrien seemed very surprised that fossil-related crime in the USA was serious enough to warrant its own specialist policeman....

The Dinosaur Dealers

Copyright Dr John Long, Alley Kat Productions Pty Ltd, Electric Pictures Pty Ltd, Australian Film Finance Corporation Limited, All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian Copyright Act 1968 the Act allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 of this book,...

A case of stolen Scottish fossils

Silurian fish and invertebrate fossils from Scotland are stolen from a protected site, and sold to a museum in Germany. Scottish Natural Heritage are alerted in February 2001 after an academic reports seeing the 430-million-year-old remains in a museum in Berlin. A team of Scottish Natural Heritage geologists decided to visit the Humboldt University Museum in Berlin, to discuss the possible return of the rare fossils. Jamoytius kerwoodi, an anaspid one of the eel-like jawless...

Protecting fossil sites in China

China has always valued its heritage, yet measures to protect its fossil heritage have only been in place since the early 1960s. I asked Professor Zhu Min, current Director of the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoan-thropology, for his views on Chinese laws pertaining to fossil protection. He replied by email on 9 April 2002 First, I would like to point out that all Chinese vertebrate fossils for sale in the international fossil markets are illegal according to the Chinese law....

A famous German fossil site

Steve calls Broome Prison again, but Michael Latham still isn't available. We visit the famous Messel fossil quarry near Darmstadt. One of the world's most important sites, the 49-million-year-old oil shales of Messel, preserves a great diversity of insects, plants, fishes, frogs, reptiles, mammals and birds. The preservation of these fossils is truly extraordinary and like no other site on Earth. The mammals often have their fur preserved, stomach contents intact, even...

Africa

It would be fair to state that most of the fossils bought, traded or sold on the international market today come out of Africa, specifically from Morocco, a country with a population of 31 million, but a labour force of only eleven million and 23 per cent unemployment, whose main industry is the mining and processing of phosphate minerals. It was only a matter of time before fossils, the common by-product of phosphate mining, would be seen as a valuable commodity for trade and export. Today,...

The Fossil Fish Capital of the World

Over the years Wyoming's Green River Formation has yielded the world's most significant Eocene terrestrial fauna insects, fishes, reptiles, birds and bats all magnificently preserved. It is also the world's richest fossil deposit, whose bounty has been harvested for over a hundred years and whose specimens are sold to every rock and mineral trade store in the world. Yet despite this, there are still troubles with poachers and illegal diggers. Where there's money involved, there's crime. Sketch...

An exquisite Liaoning dinosaur

One of the most remarkable dinosaur fossils to come out of Liaoning in recent years is the small skeleton of a psittacosaurid, a plant-eating dinosaur that is one of the earliest ceratopsians. It has the same parrot-like face, but lacks the frills and horns of the later ceratopsian dinosaurs, the most well-known of which is Triceratops. Several Psittacosaurus specimens have been found at Liaoning, in a slightly different sedimentary layer from the other feathered dinosaurs. This new specimen is...

Sues story

Sue, an almost perfect Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, was found by fossil hunter Sue Hendrickson on the morning of 12 August 1990, on a ranch in South Dakota, and later excavated professionally by Peter Larson and his team from the Black Hills Institute. It took seventeen days of careful excavation to get the skeleton out. Larson then told landowner Maurice Williams that they had found a really good specimen on his land and would pay him US 5000 for the specimen. To further complicate matters, the...

India

Dinosaur remains were first collected from central west India in 1922 by the famous American palaeontologist Barnum Brown. The fossils were taken back to the United States and registered into the collections of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. They included a partial skull of India's first recognised unique dinosaur, Indosuchus raptorius, recently redescribed in a paper by Chatterjee and Rudra 1996 . The early days of fossil collecting in India were dominated by wealthy...

Epilogue A Personal Story

In 1964 I was in grade 2, aged seven. The most eventful thing that occurred that year was that I first went hunting for fossils with my schoolmate, Desmond Matthews, and his father, a teacher who loved collecting fossils. It was a clear spring morning, the sun shining through the remaining wisps of fog which lingered over the damp green paddocks. This was Lilydale, about 30 km from Melbourne. We set off across a paddock to a little hole in the ground about 450 metres up the hill. Magpies...

Patagonian dinosaur eggs

In late November 1998, scientists from the American Museum of Natural History, working in conjunction with palaeontologists from Argentina, announced one of the world's most spectacular fossil discoveries from that country beautifully-preserved nests of dinosaur eggs, some with exquisite embryos intact. The site, Auca Mahuev, is in the Patagonian desert in southern Argentina. It contains thousands of eggs, along with fossilised bits of bone, teeth and even the well-preserved skin of the...

Beringers lying stones

Dr Johann Bartholomew Adam Beringer was a German physician and virtuoso well known around Wurzburg. Among his many interests was the study of 'oryctics', things dug out of the ground. He had collected many fossils himself and purchased many more from fossil sellers, but his collection contained nothing spectacular or different from his colleagues' collections. Then, in May 1725, three very different stones with strange markings were brought to his attention. One bore the image of the sun and...

Appendix How to Check if that Fossil is Legal

Buying a fossil that has been smuggled out of its country of origin may not be illegal in your country, but it is condoning the black-market fossil smuggling industry which could also be condoning the smuggling of drugs or weapons , and greatly endangers fossil site protection back in that country. Here is a quick summary of some countries' problems with regard to loss of heritage specimens in the recent years. I couldn't find information about many other countries,...

Utah dinosaur sold to Japan

Chinese Fossil Frauds

In September 2001, newspapers in Utah publicised an upcoming lawsuit which alleged that the defendants stole the skeleton of a meat-eating dinosaur, Allosaurus, from a site on Bureau of Land Management property in Utah, and later sold the specimen to a Japanese museum for US 400 000. Allosaurus was a 12-metre long theropod, whose remains have been found at several late Jurassic sites throughout Utah and Wyoming. Although some species are well known, there are still ongoing scientific studies of...

At the fish market

Our next stop was at one of the shops specialising in Wyoming fossils, particularly 46-million-year-old plants, fishes and birds from the Green River Formation. This particular shop had one fantastic specimen to offer a complete fossil bird, rather large and supposedly 'undescribed' possibly new to science , with a very reasonable asking price of a mere US 30 000. Alternatively, casts of the specimen were available for US 200. The cast on display was a very faithful reproduction of the actual...

Fossil birds from China

Over the last few years the Senckenberg Museum has been featured in various scientific journals as one of the few museums openly acquiring Chinese heritage fossil material. The first case in question was the purchase of several specimens of Confuciusornis, a primitive fossil bird from the Early Cretaceous of China. The species was formally described in 1995, and only a few specimens have come onto the open market. The first specimen turned up in 1993 in the United States, when a Chinese...

South America

The Santana Formation in Brazil is one of South America's crowning glories of vertebrate palaeontology. Not only is there a huge diversity of exquisitely preserved fish, plant and insect fossils, but there are also scientifically important dinosaurs and pterosaurs. Specimens have been dug up and sold to local tourists and international dealers since the site's discovery in the 1820s. Only in recent years, however, have the local authorities clamped down on the illicit trade in Santana Formation...

Chengjiang fauna for sale

The Chengjiang fauna is perhaps one of the world's most interesting windows onto the explosion of life at the Cambrian boundary, 520 million years ago. The material comes from a site in Yunnan, southern China. Since its discovery in 1984 by Hou Xianguang, more than 70 species of exquisitely preserved soft-bodied fossils have come from this remarkable site. In more recent years, the world's oldest fossil fishes and boneless vertebrates have been identified from Chengjiang, along with an entirely...

Operation Rockfish

Steve first became aware of fossil poaching in the early 1990s when, while flying routine patrols, he noticed a large number of strange holes on State land. He requested that agents from the Bureau of Land Management and the Federal Bureau of Investigation accompany him on an aerial survey. At first we didn't have any idea what the holes were all about. Our best guess was illegal dumping of toxic chemicals,' he said. Closer inspection revealed that these were sites where unauthorised collectors...

Back to Australia

The families of the Yawuru, Djugan and Goolarabooloo tribes are the traditional owners of the land in the shire of Broome. They are the long-standing guardians of the land and the culture of this area . . . You may hear Aboriginal people referring to 'The Dreaming' or 'The Law', a very special mystery in the life of every Indigenous Australian. It is like a philosophy or theology. It is also like a Bible or sacred book, containing knowledge of the beliefs, values, ancestral beings, rituals,...

Opalised fossils

I go into the Australian Museum to talk with my old friend, Dr Alex Ritchie. Alex worked in the Australian Museum for over 25 years and since his retirement some years ago has been working there voluntarily. He has had many dealings with fossil sellers, and was happy to talk to me about them over a beer at the nearby Museum Hotel. Alex told me the story of how Australia's first Mesozoic mammal a mammal from the age of dinosaurs was acquired back in 1984. He spotted it in a...

Dinosaur footprints for sale

One shop had a large sign outside it saying 'Dinosaur Footprints'. Alan and I dived for the table out front, which had an impressive array of dinosaur footprints. All of them were from the Connecticut Valley, common varieties such as Grallator or Eubrontes, and prices ranged from US 60 through to about US 250. 'Come inside, there's more here,' said the dealer as he noticed us examining the footprints. We went in and gazed around at tables full of dinosaur eggs, nests containing several large...

Prologue

The theft of rare dinosaur footprints in late 1996 from an isolated beach near Broome, in the far north of Western Australia, sent shockwaves through the peaceful world of palaeontology. The prints were thought to be the only known good trackway of a stegosaur in the world, and the only evidence for this dinosaur family having existed in Australia. The theft so infuriated the local Aboriginal peoples that the Elders threw a curse upon the perpetrators. Never before had such a site, sacred to...

A famous case of Indian fossil fraud and theft

In 1988 the world was introduced to Dr Vishwa Jit Gupta, an Indian 'palaeontologist' who had amassed an incredibly long list of scientific publications, many coauthored by eminent scientists around the world whom Gupta had contacted. The expos by an Australian professor of palaeontology, John Talent Talent 1995 , contained damning evidence that most of Gupta's work was based on fraudulent material, whether fossils taken from other institutions but claimed to have been found in the high...

Fossil Dinosaur Foot In Ground

Dinosaur Footprint Sketch

. . . the study of trace fossils allows us to reconstruct a remarkably detailed picture of dinosaurs as living animals. It provides glimpses of dinosaurs going about their everyday business, sleeping and eating, visiting the local water hole to drink or to forage. There is evidence of dinosaur nesting grounds, or careful nest building, and of parent dinosaurs tending their youngsters. There are traces of plant eating dinosaurs moving in herds through their feeding grounds, evidence of...

John Yates Geraldton

'Worldwide, the theft of fossils is gaining momentum, with Russia, China, Australia and the United States leading the way,' said Angela Meadows, program manager of cultural property for Interpol in Washington . . . The best way to crack down on fossil stealing is to catch thieves red-handed, but that is difficult in the West. A ranger for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Wyoming patrols an average of 3 million acres Steve Rogers alone patrols about 500 square miles of the Green River...

The case of the giant elephant bird egg

In January 1993, nine-year-old Jamie Andrich was playing in the high sand dunes around the beach just north of Cervantes, Western Australia, when he made a remarkable find. Poking out of the sand was a giant white egg. A few weeks later, he and his parents brought the egg in to the Western Australian Museum and I found it sitting in a cardboard box on my desk when I came back from lunch. I immediately recognised it as an egg of the Madagascan elephant bird, Aepyornis maximus, not just by virtue...

South Africa

Dinosaur Skull Tucson

In late 1996 I visited a fossil collector who lived in the Karoo region of central South Africa. His name was Roy Oosthuizen, but he was known affectionately to all as Uum Roy 'Uncle Roy' . Roy had been collecting fossils on his farm and in the surrounding regions for many years and had amassed one of the country's largest private collections. He had his best specimens displayed in a separate little museum he had built at the back of his lovely home, where rows of glass cases housed a wealth of...