Formal Project Proposal

Archaeopteryx lithographica: The Thermopolis Specimen.

Archaeopteryx lithographica: The Thermopolis Specimen. Image (c) Wyoming Dinosaur Center.

My final project will explore the fossil trade in both a global and local context. Specifically, I will focus on:

  • Collection: should it be legal for fossils to be collected?
  • Private vs. Public Ownership: Should fossils be public or private property?
  • Acquisition: Does ownership only come with discovery? Should people be able to purchase fossils? Should fossil export/import be permitted?
  • Ownership status: when is it acceptable to seize a fossil from a private or public collection?
    • This category closely relates to the acquisition category, so I may combine them

I will use the Wyoming Dinosaur Center as a “case study”; I will write a small paper explaining the WDC’s stance on these four issues. I will also prepare a presentation that examines those issues in a broader, more global perspective.

WDC Stance Paper

  • Collection: people may collect marine fossils and keep them; they may also keep dinosaur bone if it is under a designated size (excepting teeth)
  • Private vs. Public Ownership: the museum is a private collection owned by Burkhard Pohl; controversy surrounds the Archaeopteryx specimen in his collection because it is so scientifically valuable
  • Acquisition: some museum specimens are bought at auction; some are dug from the WDC quarries; some are obtained through partnerships
  • Ownership status: A Mongolian specimen was seized by authorities; it is illegal for Mongolian fossils to leave the country


  • Collection: In the US, is is legal to collect invertebrate fossils, but vertebrate fossils may only be collected with a permit. In other countries (China, Argentina) it is illegal to collect any fossils without a permit
    • laws pertaining to collection (i.e. prohibiting it):
      • Archaeological Resources Protection Act, 1979 [P.L. 96-95; 93 Stat. 721; 16 U.S.C. 470]
      • Antiquities Act, 1906 [P.L. 59-209; 34 Stat. 225; 16 U.S.C. 423,433]
      • Federal Land Policy and Management Act, 1976 [P.L. 94-579; 90 Stat. 2743; 43 U.S.C. 1701]
      • Theft of Government Property Act [62 Stat. 725; 18 U.S.C. 641]
      • Destruction of Government Property [62 Stat. 764; 18 U.S.C. 1361]
      • Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, 1990 [P.L. 101-601; 25 U.S.C. 3001-3013; 104 Stat. 3048-3058]
  • Private vs. Public Ownership: From what I can tell, fossils found on private land can be sold by the owner, and fossils found on public land belong to the county or state that owns the land. Fossils found on private land can be sold into public ownership, such as when a museum buys a specimen.The issue with private ownership (and why people were mad that the Archaeopteryx was in a private collection) is that it takes specimens away from the public and prevents scientific study.
  • Acquisition: the black market and a growing desire for acquisition
  •  Ownership status: this really depends on how the specimen was acquired; it’s a case by case basis. I will look more in to it.


Commercial Collection of Fossils
Buying Fossils-Law, Ethics, and Forgeries
Dinosaur Fossil Wars
Fossil Poaching and the Black Market
Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Code of Ethics
What’s the Deal with For-Profit Paleontology?
Dueling Dinosaurs Hit the Auction Block

Testimonials from:
Bill Wahl, Paleontologist at WDC
Andrew Rossi, Hill Manager at WDC
Jessica Lippincott, Director of BHBF

I might also bring in some specimens from my private collection, because why not.

The rare species of dinosaur, Rawrasaurus.

The rare species of dinosaur, Rawrasaurus.

2 Responses to Formal Project Proposal

  1. John Krygier says:

    Excellent! Superlative proposal! I don’t think I have any suggestions except maybe include a timeline indicating when you plan to complete major parts of the project (interviews, etc.).

  2. […] Week 4 (9/16): Final Project: A Case Study of Fossil Collection (pup. 9/16) – Week 6 (9/30): Formal Project Proposal (pub. 9/29) – Week 15 (12/2): GEOG 360 Final […]

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