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Appendix. How to Check if that Fossil is Legal*
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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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