2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, USA (1-4 November 2015)

Paper No. 188-7
Presentation Time: 10:00 AM


LISTON, Jeff, Natural Sciences, National Museums Scotland, Chambers Street, Old Town, Edinburgh, EH1 1JF, Scotland, leedsichthys@gmail.com

Fossil protection legislation exists for many reasons, most obviously to restrict irresponsible collection of fossil material, preserving natural science heritage from the unregulated ravages of museums, commercial dealers, private collectors, tourists and academics. These distinct communities are simultaneously both threats and stakeholders. The enforcement of such legislation is often under-resourced when it comes to policing sites, but perhaps surprisingly, the issues and problems are fairly standard across a variety of territories, regardless of the political systems involved. Ongoing problems with smuggling of fossils from China, Brazil and Mongolia have recently focused attention on this issue that affects many other territories around the world, through a number of high profile media stories. Not simply restricted to the fossil trade, this smuggling also extends to material that ends up the subject of scientific study and publication. Legislation has prohibited the export of fossils from Brazil since 1942. In Mongolia, unexcavated fossils as cultural items have been regarded as property of the state since 1924, therefore required explicit permission from the state to leave the country. China had a similar law for unexcavated relics in 1930: since 1982 an involved administration has explicitly been in place for vertebrate fossils (recently expanded to encompass invertebrate, palaeobotanical and trace fossils), which has to be engaged with in order for material to be excavated or leave the country legally for study and eventual return. Unfortunately, although such paperwork appears to have had some impact on the illegal fossil trade (for example, the quantity of Chinese fossil material available at the Tucson Fair every year in Arizona has greatly declined), it has also had two less desirable consequences for academic research: encouraging academic theft (to circumvent the paperwork); discouraging international collaboration by legitimate domestic research departments (to avoid the paperwork). The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology has recently revised its ethics statement to make clear that failure to acquire appropriate permits for either excavating or exporting material, would be violating international law, and lead to expulsion from the Society.