The fossil trade: paying a price for human origins

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  • Peter C. Kjærgaard, Denmark
Fossils have been traded for centuries. Over the past two hundred years the market has developed into an organised enterprise with fossils serving multiple functions as scientific objects of study, collectors’ items and investments. Finding fossils, digging them up or purchasing them, transporting, studying, conserving and putting them on display was and still is expensive. Since the early nineteenth century funding bodies, academic institutions and museums, philanthropists, dealers, collectors, amateurs and professional palaeontologists have constituted elaborate networks driven by collaboration, necessity, ambition, accolade and capital to generate knowledge and produce geological artefacts increasing our understanding of the natural world, advancing careers and institutions, and contributing to personal fortunes. The emergence of palaeoanthropology as a scientific discipline at around 1900 generated a scientific focus on the human story that was easy to sell. The scarcity of ancient human remains made it close to impossible for a commercial market to evolve, yet, finding them required serious funding. Elaborate schemes for financing expeditions and excavations went hand in hand with individual aspiration, patronage, philanthropy, networks and making allies, as concession rights and access to sponsors were objects of regular political intrigues and often bitter disputes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)340-355
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2012

    Research areas

  • Human evolution

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