Babbage: Are auctioned dinosaur fossils lost to science?

Natural history auctions are on the rise and are generating millions of dollars for private fossil hunters, but the commercialisation of ancient bones is worrying some palaeontologists. They argue that specimens sold privately are lost to science. Yet others say that by disincentivising the black market and encouraging more enthusiasts to search for rare finds, fossil auctions could improve the scientific understanding of ancient reptiles. 

The Economist’s Dylan Barry explores the Natural History Museum’s fossil collection in London, with Paul Barrett, a palaeontologist. Dylan also chats to the “dinosaur cowboy”, Clayton Phipps, a commercial fossil prospector, about his discovery of the “duelling dinosaurs” and how ranchers benefit from finding dinosaur bones. Plus, Cassandra Hatton, the vice president and head of natural history of Sotheby’s, an auction house, argues that auctioneers and palaeontologists should see each other as being on the same side. Kenneth Cukier hosts.

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