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Appendix. How to Check if that Fossil is Legal*

Appendix. How to Check if that Fossil is Legal*

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Dinosaur Dealers text pages 2/9/03 1:07 PM Page 208

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Australia. Fossils from Australia which are sold outside the

country must have an export permit from the Protection of

Moveable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 and later amendments

(POMCHA) or a letter of clearance from a registered expert

examiner. These letters are also sent to the POMCHA offices

in Canberra so they can be checked if their authenticity is

questioned. No unique new species or articulated vertebrate

skeleton would be granted an export permit, so any such

specimen is immediately suspect. This would also apply to

any Precambrian stromatolites from the North Pole site in

Western Australia; Ediacaran fossils from the Flinders

Ranges; opalised vertebrate bones and some invertebrate

species from Coober Pedy, Andamooka, or Lightning Ridge;

any dinosaur bones; Gogo fishes; Riversleigh fossils; or any

specimen from a UNESCO World Heritage listed site.

Jimbacrinus slabs from Western Australia are often approved

exports, but not if they contain new, undescribed species

such as starfish fossils. Furthermore, Queensland and South

Australia have their own (recent) legislation relating to

collecting fossils. Before the POMCHA, fossils were

prohibited exports under the 1909 Customs Act.

Brazil. Since 1942 (Decreto-Lei 4146) it has been illegal

to exploit fossiliferous deposits without a licence issued

by the Departamento Naỗional da Produỗóo Mineral

(DNPM), the Geological Survey of Brazil. A number of

other laws were also enacted to prevent the export of items

such as rare fossils considered Brazilian public heritage.

This includes all Santana Formation pterosaurs or

dinosaurs and most fishes. However, as Brazilian fossils

have been collected and sold for well over 100 years, many

specimens sold or exported before 1942 are quite legal.

Older collections can be sold or traded legitimately, as long

as it can be documented that the specimens were exported

prior to 1942.


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Britain. Fossils have been collected and sold in Britain for

nigh on 200 years, and there are many fine old collections

in circulation from which specimens are legally sold or

auctioned. Most sites yielding good ammonites, ichthyosaur

bones, or Old Red Sandstone fossil fishes (Scotland) are

quite legal. The only problems in recent years have been

with specimens taken from designated Scientific Significant

Sites, such at the Lanarkshire fossil fish and invertebrate

material from Scotland that was sold in Germany. Some

Special Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI) as designated by

English Nature are protected, but others allow amateur

collecting of surface material. If in doubt, contact English

Nature to check on the status of fossils from particular sites.

In general, most fossils on sale from the UK are OK.

Canada. Federal Export Permits are required under the

Canadian Cultural Property Export Control List (CCPE),

Group I 3—Objects recovered from the soil or waters of

Canada, Palaeontological: a type fossil specimen of any value;

fossil amber of any value; a vertebrate fossil specimen of a fair

market value in Canada of more than $500; an invertebrate

fossil specimen of a fair market value in Canada of more than

$500; fossil specimens in bulk weighing 25 pounds

(11.25 kg) or more of vertebrate fossils or vertebrate trace

fossils of any value; fossil specimens in bulk weighing

50 pounds (22.5 kg) or more, recovered from a specific outcrop, quarry or locality, that include one or more specimens

of any value of the following: invertebrate fossils, plant fossils

or fossiliferous rock containing fossils of plants or invertebrates. Each State has its own fossil legislation: for example,

in Alberta all fossils belong to the Crown. Individual ownership of ammonites, oyster shells, leaves and wood is permitted,

but the collector must apply to the Tyrrell Museum.

China. Fossil invertebrates and plants are generally OK,

except if it is something which might be in the scientifically


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unique catgeory (that is, a new or exceptionally rare species),

or from a site that is a designated geological heritage park

(for example, Chengjiang fauna). Fossil vertebrates of any

kind (fish, amphibians, dinosaurs or dinosaur eggs, birds,

mammals) receive the same State protection as ‘cultural

relics’ under the cultural relics protection laws. Fossils that

may have come out of China in the early days before these

laws (circa early–mid-1980s) may be ‘legally’ exempt. Any

Chinese vertebrate fossil for sale should have paperwork

stating that it is allowed to be exported on the grounds of

cultural exchange. As ‘cultural exchange’ relates only to the

trade of fossils between major museums or academic

institutions, however, this means that Chinese fossils are not

to be exported for sale. Also, as ‘cultural exchange’ documents have been signed in the past by academics with vested

interests, or forged for the buyer, it is safe to say that no

vertebrate fossils coming out of China are truly legitimate.

This is especially true for dinosaur eggs, and any significant

vertebrate fossils from the Liaoning Early Cretaceous sites.

Some of the commonest Liaoning fish fossils are permitted

to be sold, and may soon be quite legal exports.

Europe. This is not an easy one at all, because each country

has its own approach to cultural heritage and export laws.

Not only that but, as we discovered in Germany, each State

may have different restrictions on sites and collecting. In

general, only specimens from sites that have been designated

as protected sites with UNESCO World Heritage status

should be carefully considered. Even so, amateur collectors

may have collected specimens legally from the sites prior to

their World Heritage status being confirmed; these can now

be resold. France has geological heritage parks, and fossils

from these sites can’t be collected without a permit.

Kenya. All fossils belong to the State, with no exceptions.

Anyone caught trying to take fossil material out of Kenya,


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especially specimens from the hominid sites around Lake

Turkana, will be in serious trouble.

Mongolia. All Mongolian fossils are the property of

the State. In recent years, when American and Japanese

museums have led expeditions into Mongolia, it has been

with the cooperation of palaeontologists from the museum

in Ulan Bator. Important specimens can be studied in the

USA or Japan, but only on the understanding that they will

be returned to Mongolian museum collections.

Morocco. Most fossils sold out of Morocco are quite legal.

The Cheftaine des Phosphates issues licences for a certain

number of registered fossil collectors, who are then

responsible for managing the resources and selling the

specimens. Within Morocco it is a different matter, as many

individuals sell fossils but are probably not licensed to do

so. Buying fossils from an unlicensed seller is illegal.

Russia. The free enterprise system in Russia means that

there are several thriving businesses which openly collect

and sell Russian fossils. The vast majority of these specimens

are legal, but the buyer should be wary of anything unique

or very special that may have come out of a museum

collection. A number of valuable fossils were stolen from

the Palaeontological Institute in Moscow that have not yet

been traced (fossil amphibian skulls, dinosaur bones from

Mongolia) and are possibly still out there in the marketplace.

South Africa. As of 31 March 2002, all fossils belong to

the State, with no exceptions. Permits are required for

collecting, and these are only issued for academic purposes.

Collectors who have private fossil collections must have had

them registered with SAHRA (South African Heritage

Resources Agency) by the end of March 2002, having had

since 2000 to do so.


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United States. Most fossils from the USA sold on the

international market are quite legal as they come from

private lands. If investing in something very large and

expensive, like a real dinosaur skeleton, make sure it has

come from privately-owned land; not Native American

Reservation land, or any form of State or government land

(especially national parks and forests services lands). Each

State has its own rules and regulations as to what can be

collected with or without a permit, so if in doubt, it’s best

to check on the locality with the State authorities (the State

museums or geological surveys can advise on this issue). For

example, no permit is required for collecting or selling

sharks’ teeth from Florida. Fish fossils from Wyoming are

usually fine, excepting some Green River Formation fossils

that have come from State lands. Be wary of any large,

impressive reptile, bird or mammal fossil for sale from the

Green River Formation, because if it’s from one of the

State-leased quarries it has to be declared and handed in if

it’s something very rare, or potentially new to science. If it’s

from private land it can be sold without any conditions.


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Appendix. How to Check if that Fossil is Legal*

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