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Paleontologists Oppose Sale Of Mystery Dinosaur Skeleton: Here's Why

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A scientific organization consisting of international vertebrate paleontologists has tried to sway Aguttes from auctioning the unclassified dinosaur skeleton in a letter dated May 17.

The France-based auction house, however, was not persuaded and sold the 150-million-year-old dinosaur skeleton for $2.3 million on June 4.

The Executive Committee of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, headed by David Polly, said it was concerned about the auction due to ethical repercussions and possible negative impacts to the scientific community.

Eric Mickeler, Spain-based member of The European Chamber of Expert-Advisors in Fine Art who oversaw the auction, instead offered the paleontologists a ticket ahead of the public sale and suggested for the organization to buy the controversial skeleton.

Scientific Concerns

SVP is a non-profit scientific organization that has more than 2,200 members comprised of vertebrate paleontologists worldwide. In the letter, the organization contends that the auction is specifically of substantial concern due to Aguttes's claim that the species has remained unknown to science.

Specifically, Aguttes invited possible buyers to an auction of "a new species of carnivorous dinosaur" and an "unknown theropod." SVP argued that comprehensive scientific study is required for Aguttes to make such claims.

"Scientific practice demands that conclusions drawn from the fossils should be verifiable: scientists must be able to reexamine, re-measure, and reinterpret them (such reexamination can happen decades or even centuries after their discovery)," SVP's letter reads.

Aguttes stated that the fossils, discovered in 2013 in Wyoming by an anonymous group of British paleontologists, dates back to the late Jurassic period. Scientists previously thought that the fossils belonged to allosaurs.

In 2016, however, European scientists noticed that the skeletons belonged to a species with more teeth, wider pelvis, and more elongated shoulder blades aside from other differences in the skull bones.

Lost To Science

An anonymous French buyer purchased the mystery dinosaur skeleton on June 4. According to auctioneer Claude Aguttes, the buyer is willing to present the skeletons to the public. In addition, it would be lent to a museum and scientists would be able to study it.

SVP, however, stated that important fossils should be held in public trust. Once specimens are sold into private hands, they are already lost to science.

"Even if made accessible to scientists, information contained within privately owned specimens cannot be included in the scientific literature because the availability of the fossil material to other scientists cannot be guaranteed," the letter reads.

Ethical Concerns

Mickeler reportedly told some media that the buyer has the right to name the supposedly new dinosaur specimen. SVP described this claim as misleading because naming a new species is governed by the rules of the International Code of Nomenclature.

"The scientific community considers it unethical to study, name or include in the scientific literature fossil specimens that are privately owned, even if displayed in a public repository," the organization explains in the letter.

Finding Fossils May Become A Business Venture

SVP recognized that shipment and transport of the fossils from the United States is legally and morally acceptable. However, selling the skeletons for hefty amount could make a precedent among landowners to perceive important discovery as a business venture.

Polly explained that people who might stumble on a historical finding in their lands might prefer working with entities that could pay them rather than with scientists whose primary aim is for the advancement of scientific studies.

Furthermore, Polly said that similar auctions could become a trend, which in return, could result in thieves stealing scientific collections to sell them.

Mystery Dinosaur Might Not Be 'Mysterious' After All

Thomas Carr, a vertebrate paleontologist and an associate professor of biology at Carthage College, believed that Aguttes might have tried to get a higher price for the skeleton by claiming that it is an unknown theropod species. He said that the skeleton looked similar to skeletons of Allosaurus that he has seen.

On the other hand, Carr said that if indeed, Aguttes's claim about the skeleton belonging to an unknown group of allosaurid theropod is true, then official confirmation should come from peer-reviewed scientific literature.

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