Nothing Besides Remains: Preserving the Scientific and Cultural Value of Paleontological Resources in the United States

30 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2014

See all articles by Alexa Chew

Alexa Chew

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: 2005

Abstract

After a half century's lull, the last thirty years have seen a great resurgence in the public's interest in fossils, in part because of the popularity of the film Jurassic Park, and also because new paleontological controversies grabbed the public's attention. This revival has resulted in a considerable commercial market for fossils, previously considered the province of museums and universities. Collectors will pay premium prices to have a piece of prehistory in their own homes. Anyone can buy a dinosaur fossil on eBay, from a fragment for $5 to a skeleton for $2,000. The growing commercial market calls for a comprehensive system to govern the collection and trade of fossils. However, the choice of regulatory route depends on which aspect of a fossil is valued most highly. There are at least three ways to assign value to a fossil: economic, scientific, and cultural. Preserving one type of value may limit or destroy the others. For example, digging up a fossil as quickly as possible to rush it to market may maximize economic value, but it can destroy scientific value. Any successful comprehensive regulation of fossil collection and trading must address these conflicting value systems and resolve them within the existing private property regime.

Keywords: antiquities regulation, fossils, paleontology, public lands, land use, dinosaurs, auctions, cultural value, scientific value, plundering, collectors, paleontological resources, prehistoric resources, antiquities

Suggested Citation

Chew, Alexa, Nothing Besides Remains: Preserving the Scientific and Cultural Value of Paleontological Resources in the United States (2005). Duke Law Journal, Vol. 54, 1031, 2005, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2443941

Alexa Chew (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States

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