One bright day last September, Icarosaurus, the famous fossil of a Triassic Age gliding reptile, which had exited the halls of the American Museum of Natural History a decade earlier, was brought back to New York to roost. Its return was a wake-up call for public education and science everywhere. Unless action is taken, fossils will continue to be sold to the highest bidder. Sad to say, the US is not the only country with this problem.
The story begins in 1961 with three teenagers combing the New Jersey Palisades, the cliffs surrounding the Hudson River across from New York City, searching for ancient fossils. An old quarry was being widened and leveled, and the boys followed the bulldozers as they scraped away a stratum of earth to reveal fragile, fossil-bearing shale underneath. One day they found an ancient reptile with long ribs that enabled it to glide between trees.
The boys brought the specimen to the Museum of Natural History, where its curator recognized the importance of the find and named it after one of the boys. Three decades later, one of them, now a man, became sick and needed money. He asked the Museum for compensation for the fossil. When his multimillion-dollar demand was refused, he spoke of legal action and claimed the specimen was only on loan to the Museum. The papers proved him correct. So the Museum let Icarosaurus go.
The fossil was offered to the highest bidder. After nearly ten years, when no museum or private buyer met his price, the man put Icarosaurus up for sale at auction – a shock to the world of paleontology.