Alongside antique furniture and art at antique sales, fossils are becoming increasingly popular, but scientists are concerned about their sale.
Most antiques are, at most, a few hundred years old, but the teeth of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and the tail from a duck-billed dinosaur can be 66 million years old. Many museums buy fossils for their collections but there is an increasing number of private collectors who are prepared to pay high prices for rare items at antique actions. An elephant bird egg can sell for up to £100,000 and an eleven foot female ichthyosaur fossil from 184 million years ago sold for £240,000.
Scientists are concerned that the popularity of rare fossils has created an illicit fossil trade. Some countries including China, Brazil and Mongolia have banned their export. The film star Nicholas Cage bought a 70 million year old Tyrannosaurus skull, but the Mongolian government reclaimed it as it had been illegally exported. Unless you are sure of the provenance of a fossil, you could be supporting the black market fossil trade.
Museums complain that the inflated prices of some fossils mean that they do not have the budget to acquire them. Museums such as the London Natural History Museum do valuable scientific research using fossils.
Lancashire antique dealers sell items that are considerably less than millions of years old at prices well below the cost of a rare fossil. Dealers are careful about the provenance of items and make sure that foreign-made antiques have been imported legally.
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