WPPB

Selling Dinosaur Bones On eBay

May 2, 2019
Originally published on May 2, 2019 7:26 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

You can list all kinds of things on eBay, right? Second-Hand books, vintage clothes, couches - but dinosaur fossils. Yup, you can make good money selling fossils online, but that does not sit well with some scientists. Cardiff Garcia and Stacey Vanek Smith - they are hosts of NPR's podcast The Indicator From Planet Money. And they've got the story of one guy's attempt to e-sell (ph) a Tyrannosaurus rex.

CARDIFF GARCIA, BYLINE: Here is the specific eBay listing for the T-Rex. It reads young, baby T. rex dinosaur fossil. The price - $2.95 million.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: So first question - who has a T. rex to sell on eBay?

ALAN DIETRICH: Hi, I'm Alan Dietrich. And I'm a professional dinosaur hunter.

VANEK SMITH: In the U.S., if you find a dinosaur on your property, you own it. It's yours.

GARCIA: So fossil hunters like Alan go to fossil country.

DIETRICH: I went to where they would find the big T. rexes - Garfield County, Mont., and Harding County, S.D.

GARCIA: They find the person who owns the property where the dinosaur is. And he says, let me look around your land for dinosaur bones. And if I find one, I'll give you a cut.

VANEK SMITH: Alan's found a lot of fossils this way, including the baby T. rex.

GARCIA: Finding dinosaur bones and selling them to museums and private buyers is how Alan makes money. One of the pioneers of this business is Pete Larson. Larson runs the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in South Dakota.

PETE LARSON: So far, we've collected 10 different Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons and partial skeletons. And that's kind of a record, I guess.

VANEK SMITH: OK, Pete is being modest. There are around 40 T. rex skeletons that have ever been discovered, and Pete has found 10 of them.

GARCIA: When Pete started out in the fossil business in the late '70s, it wasn't really a job that people had. But that changed in the mid-90s, when a couple of things happened. First...

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS' "THEME FROM JURASSIC PARK")

VANEK SMITH: "Jurassic Park."

GARCIA: Yeah (laughter).

VANEK SMITH: (Laughter) That's such a good roar.

GARCIA: Steven Spielberg happened...

VANEK SMITH: Yes.

GARCIA: ...Basically.

VANEK SMITH: Steven Spielberg happened. "Jurassic Park" was this huge hit. And suddenly, everybody was super into fossils and wanted to hunt for them.

GARCIA: And number two, one of the T. rexes that Pete Larson found - a T. rex named Sue - fetched more than $8 million from a buyer. And people thought, whoa, there's real money to be made in dinosaurs.

VANEK SMITH: And suddenly, Montana and South Dakota were just, like, crawling with fossil prospectors. And fossil hunting went from this kind of sleepy, shoestring, academic pursuit to a pretty hot, little business.

GARCIA: Alan Dietrich is hoping to get a premium for Son of Samson because it's the only known baby T. rex.

VANEK SMITH: So I'm looking at it now. It's 2.95 million.

DIETRICH: I priced it cheap...

VANEK SMITH: You - it's priced to move (laughter).

DIETRICH: ...For a quick sale, yeah.

GARCIA: Now, the for-profit fossil business has caused a lot of controversy among museums and the academic community because some of the people hunting just have no qualifications, so they can end up easily destroying priceless fossils. But Larson says the fossil market has to evolve with the times.

LARSON: Without these private collectors, most museums would not be able to get real fossils for exhibit.

GARCIA: The eBay play seems to be working. Alan Dietrich says he's gotten an offer.

VANEK SMITH: Was it a good offer?

DIETRICH: Well, I'm going to use a double entendre with you.

VANEK SMITH: OK.

DIETRICH: It's a bona fide offer.

(LAUGHTER)

VANEK SMITH: Stacey Vanek Smith.

GARCIA: Cardiff Garcia, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF CFCF'S "INORGANIC STREAMS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.