Celebrities Bid up Price of Fossils

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.  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 finds to private collectors.

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.

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.

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