Eric Warner Opinion Editor
Unlocking the secret knowledge of our planet’s past is one of the one important studies to be conducted in human history. So many mysteries are left to solved and can only be understood through scarce evidence such as residues, archaeological scaring, frozen specimens, and perhaps most importantly, fossils. Fossils provide researchers and museum curators a window into the prehistoric past and allow us as a species to understand extinct species, our ancestors, the condition the world was in millions of years ago, and even predict what may occur in the future. However, multiple organizations and individual prevent this further understanding of the past through selfish and greed-stricken acts.
On Oct. 6, an auction house in London sold a fossil of a nearly complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, nicknamed Stan after Stan Sacrison, a paleontologist who discovered the dinosaur remains, to an anonymous bidder for 31.8 million dollars. Scientists around the world have been baffled by this transaction as this is, for one thing, the highest price ever paid at auction for a fossil and this money could have been donated to museums or research institutions to fund more studies of our planet’s past. David Evans, a paleontology chair member at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto supported claims such as these in an email interview with National Geographic, “If this kind of money [were] invested properly, it could easily fund 15 permanent dinosaur research positions, or about 80 full field expeditions per year, in perpetuity.” Stan the T-Rex is most likely going to end up as a display piece in someone’s home and he isn’t the first prehistoric specimen to end up that way.
Fossils and other prehistoric specimen are illegally discovered and sold around the world through the black market. As climate change continues to melt polar caps and destabilize typically frozen land structures such as permafrost, many caches of ice age specimens are appearing and tusk hunters are eager to grab the prehistoric riches that are revealed. Siberia has become a haven for these tusk hunters where they use fire hoses to bast through crumbling permafrost to reach ice age specimens and sell fossils such as wooly mammoth tusks on the black market to be bought for personal display or for the ivory within the prehistoric tusks themselves. Often times, these illegal hunters leave behind precious prehistoric remains such as the extremely important bones and sometimes frozen body tissue to be consumed and lost by modern elements. According to Sabrina Weiss, a writer at WIRED, “An estimated 80 per cent of Siberian mammoth tusks end up in mainland China, via Hong Kong, where they are carved and turned into elaborate sculptures and trinkets. Russia exported 72 tonnes of mammoth tusk in 2017 but exports have dropped off as a growing underground trade in tusks appears to be eating into the official trade.”
To put it simply, any remains of prehistoric earth should remain in museums and research institutions so that everyone can learn from what secrets they may reveal. With Oct. 14 being National Fossil Day, take the time to think about how much information we have learned from remains of the previous inhabitants of this planet and think about how much information has been lost due to people destroying or keeping specimens privately. Not only could these fossils that are used as meager décor provide researchers with more possible breakthroughs and discoveries, the large funds used to purchase these fossils could instead be donated to museums and institutions to continue their research projects. If people really want to have a skull of a dinosaur or a tusk of an elephant ancestor in their home, they should buy a replica or a 3D printed version of it. As George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If we cannot learn from our planet’s previous inhabitants, we are likely to succumb to their same fate and fall in ignorance.