Should anyone be able to dig up and sell dinosaur fossils? It's a question that's increasingly being asked as the commercial fossil market booms. WSJ met with fossil hunters and scientists to
Ten years ago, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as #Obamacare, was signed into law by Barack Obama himself. The Democratic president's signature policy heralded a revolution in the US by expanding affordable healthcare coverage to an unprecedented number of Americans. Since then, its popularity has grown, with support for it on the rise as the Covid-19 pandemic rages on. But over the past decade, Republicans have repeatedly tried to repeal the law, taking their battle all the way to the Supreme Court. Our US correspondents bring us this special report. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) weighs in on expanding stimulus checks, telling Andrea Mitchell that "the legislative session ends in three days. So there is only one path to get $2,000 into the hands of Americans who are struggling today, and that is to pass the House legislation." He also sharply criticizes Sen. Josh Hawley's (R-MO) announcement that he would object to the Electoral College certification on January 6th, saying that "Josh Hawley and anyone who supports his effort are engaged in the attempted overthrow of democracy. There is no evidence that there was any fraud."
Aired on 12/30/2020. NBC News producer Haley Talbot reports from inside the U.S. Capitol: "We were told to get under our chairs, we were all sheltering." Aired on 01/06/2021. NBC's Pete Williams reports that law enforcement officials say one person has been shot by a member of law enforcement inside the U.S. Capitol as protesters are inside the building.
(upbeat orchestral music) - I think that there's several reasons to own fossils. Science is only one of 'em. - I've made millions of dollars in the dinosaur business. - The thrill of discovery doesn't get old. It's almost like an addiction. - [Narrator] There is a fight going on in the world of dinosaur fossils. The market for these prehistoric treasures is booming, but increasingly, wealthy individuals are buying up the best specimens. And that has paleontologists worried. - A rare, baby T-Rex fossil is for sale on eBay. Some scientists and other critics are calling the listing a disgrace. - [Narrator] Last year, a baby T-Rex fossil was listed on eBay for $2.95 million. The sale outraged many paleontologists. According to a letter from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, if the fossil was sold to a private buyer, it would effectively be lost to science since private buyers are under no obligation to share their fossils with researchers. - The scientific community is trying to hurt us. They want to discourage anyone from making money selling fossils. I tell you what? I've been charmed, had a charmed life. And it's all because I pick fights and I'm pickin' fights now. And I'm doin' it in a different way. I'm goin' after the scientific community. They need to open up. (gentle upbeat music) - [Narrator] Alan Dietrich is the commercial fossil hunter selling the baby T-Rex. (door opening) - This is Son of Sampson, the smallest Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur in the world. Son of Sampson was found in 2013, near Jordan, Montana. - [Narrator] Dietrich's T-Rex is a scientifically significant find which is why he had hoped to sell it to the American Museum of Natural History. - It's an important specimen. He has made a big effort to try to get it into a public institution. We were interested in it, for instance. But it just didn't work out. It purely comes down to an issue of price. - [Narrator] Dietrich told The Wall Street Journal that he offered to sell the dinosaur to the American Museum of Natural History for one million dollars, which was about two million less than the asking price. - Usually, like in the art market, when it's been on the market for a long time, it's either not that good or they're asking too much money. So it gets kinda stale. - [Narrator] But Dietrich has been in the fossil business for decades and he's confident that he'll find a buyer. - You know, if you can't wait, you'll spend too much or you won't make enough money. This material's 65 million years old. I can wait a few months. I can wait a few years. (gentle upbeat music) - How lucrative is hunting for fossils? That depends upon how lucky you are, how skilled you are, how much time you have to dedicate to it, and how much money you have to invest in it, in the first place. - [Narrator] Although the commercial market is thriving, that doesn't mean it's easy to make a living as a fossil hunter. - I wear many different hats. So I'm Assistant Professor at Mayville State University. I teach biology, ecology. (water swishing) That's the day job. If I have enough time to come out here to the Badlands, I switch hats and become the Indiana Jones or the Jurassic Park character. - [Narrator] This is one of the best places on Earth to find fossils. Every year, thousands of fossil hunters flock here to the Badlands, to try their luck at finding buried treasure. Recently, one of the lucky ones was Michael Kjelland, who runs a small, non-profit fossil hunting company. To survey the land, Kjelland worked out a deal with the private land owner to split the sale. - One day I was out walking and I went up into this box canyon. In the distance, there was some white colored dinosaur bone. I realized, "Wow, this is a brow horn." And that's how we found Skull X. - [Narrator] Skull X refers to the fossilized skull of an adult triceratops, which Kjelland is working to excavate. But digging the skull out of the ground is only the very beginning of the process of getting the specimen to market. Once the fossil is secure in a dried jacket of plaster of Paris, Kjelland will need to move the approximately 500 pound mound of dirt and rock across this ravine and then, up and out of this canyon. For Kjelland, digging up fossils is a labor of love. He knows that he will likely only break-even on Skull X but that doesn't matter. His primary interest is science. - The reason why I decided to set Fossil Excavators up as a non-profit? Because I'm not in it just for the money. (gentle upbeat music) - I've made millions of dollars in the dinosaur business. You know, I love capitalism because the people that get to the top of the hill get to do what they want to with their money. Welcome to my studio where I clean and prepare fossils. I've sold thousands of fossils. Right now, I have a 30-year accumulation of triceratops dinosaur bones and T-Rex dinosaur bones and Edmontosaurus dinosaur bones, and some new to science bones, I don't know what they are. (loud drilling) Like most commercial fossil hunters, Dietrich doesn't have a formal education in paleontology. But he knows his dinosaurs. What's more, he's an accomplished artist who can prepare and mount his own specimens. But perhaps most importantly, Dietrich has a gift for sales. - Wow! This is a 20-foot mosasaur from Kansas. This was 85 million years old, give or take three million years, some people say 88 million. (blowing loudly) This is what you call the eye of the tiger here. This is what gets kids excited. Buyers, you've gotta excite their imagination. And what I like to tell people is, "You know, at some point "you're gonna be able to ride this thing off "into the sunset. "Because your name will live on "that you owned this dinosaur." (gentle upbeat music) - [Narrator] Today, private ownership of fossils can be seen as controversial. But things weren't always this way. - Commercial fossil hunting has existed since the dawn of modern paleontology. One of our most important specimens in our own collection that's on display here on the fourth floor is a mummy of a duck-billed dinosaur. That specimen was commercially purchased from a legendary fossil hunter named Charles Sternberg. So it's always been part of the game. - [Narrator] The modern commercial market took off in 1997, when Sue, the largest in-tact T-Rex skeleton ever found was auctioned off at Christie's for $8.3 million. - Everybody was just astounded that that specimen would get that much money. I think before that, nothing had ever been sold above like $200,000 or so. - [Narrator] Since then, the commercial market has boomed, driving up prices and making it harder for public institutions like museums to compete. - You know, most of the people in my field would go for more regulation. I personally would go for less regulation. Because there's a lot more fossils out there that are just being destroyed by neglect and erosion than there are paleontologists who can actually collect them. (upbeat orchestral music) - [Narrator] After days of careful extraction and plastering Skull X is finally ready to move. (clicking and whirring) - With a budget of a couple hundred bucks, how do you get it out of there? You can't go out and rent a helicopter. What we do have is a crew that have a lot of creativity. - We're using these metal pipes as a bridge. They're kinda like railroad tracks. Then we're gonna slide it across here. (metal clanging and banging) (upbeat orchestral music) (squeaking loudly) (gentle upbeat music) - [Mark] I think the commercial market has a place. - Ugh! - Okay! - [Mark] The financial side of it gives the motivation for people to go out and look for them and conserve them. Some of them are just so remote they might not even be found. (metal clanging) Now the bad side of the market is people can make up things and maybe they'll make mistakes because they weren't properly trained. (engine running) - Wahoo, (mumbles)! - Yeah! (loud clapping) - Nice, thanks, man. - Well, you gotta be pragmatic. As long as these things are collected ethically, meaning that they're not stolen off public land in this country, or they're not imported from a country that doesn't allow the export of any fossils, just get real with it. I mean, just get used to it. I mean, this is something that's gonna happen. (bang) (cheerful orchestral music)