They stopped making them 65 million years ago and now Dinosaur fossils have become the latest status symbol for Hollywood “A” listers. Nicholas Cage and Leonardo DiCaprio were in a bidding war for a Tarbosaurus skull (an Asian relative of Tyrannosaurus rex) at a recent Beverley Hills auction. Dinosaur fans and model makers have no chance when these high rollers enter the auction. More importantly, many museums, keen to acquire new fossils for display and study, may not be able to complete financially with wealthy, private collectors. It seems that a number of celebrities as well as big businessmen and even royalty have taken to collecting rare fossils. This phenomenon is not new, wealthy patrons have always helped fund fossil collecting and sponsored expeditions as well as permanent exhibits. Mary Anning, the pioneering English fossil collector, sold many of her Lyme Regis (Dorset, on the south coast of England) finds to private collectors.
Securing the Patronage of a Wealthy Sponsor
Had Gideon Mantell been able to secure the support and patronage of the newly crowned King William IV when the royal party visited Lewes on October 22nd 1830, the science of palaeontology could well have taken a different route. However, the luckless Mantell missed out and one of the most distinguished and important early pioneers of Dinosaur study was doomed to be squeezed out by the better connected Sir Richard Owen, who later went on to found the Natural History Museum located in South Kensington (London).
Dinosaur Fossils – The New Status Symbol
For the world’s wealthy having your very own private collection of fossils and other antiquities is becoming an important status symbol. DiCaprio may have lost out to Nicholas Cage when it came to bidding for the Tyrannosaur skull, but no doubt other batches of rare and unique specimens will be auctioned in California shortly and he will have another chance.
Fossil sales are big business, many scientific bodies and museums cannot compete and as a result palaeontologists are unable to study rare specimens and important specimens. The rising prices has led to increased trade in illegal fossils (remains removed without permission) and counterfeit specimens, so well made that they can even fool professional palaeontologists.
Another consequence of the high prices paid for dinosaur and other prehistoric animal fossils is that there have been a number of raids on scientific dig sites, with many precious and delicate fossils stolen or damaged in such raids. Fossil sites, in the United Kingdom and the United States have been vandalised by individuals keen to find dinosaur fossils so that they can either be sold at auction or privately. Sadly, such fossils are taken out of the hands of palaeontologists who are not able to study them, thus our fossil heritage is weakened and scientists have fewer opportunities to learn about these amazing prehistoric creatures.