Another Ownership Dispute over a Dinosaur Fossil

A short while ago, I talked about Stan and how fossil specimens can be lost or left in limbo depending on ownership of the fossil. Don’t think that those types of problems are unique to the world of commercial paleontology, because they are not. There is a recent case involving a small fossil dinosaur named Ubirajara jubatus. This dinosaur was first described on December 13, 2020, only for the article that describes it to be removed about a week later.i Why? Because the type specimen for Ubirajara jubatus (“type specimen” refers to the specific fossil used to describe and define the species) is in a museum in Germany but the fossil is from Brazil. The problem? Brazil has laws that state that all fossil in Brazil belong to the state of Brazil. Therefore, it is contended by many scientists in Brazil that the Ubirajara jubatus specimen was removed from Brazil illegally. The scientists who described Ubirajara jubatus (who work at German, British, and Mexican institutions) contend that the fossil was removed from Brazil legally. They are currently trying to resolve the problem with Brazil. In the meantime, the article has been removed, probably because with the ownership of the specimen in contention, and thus there is no permanent holding place for the fossil, the fossil cannot be cited properly. Once the dispute is resolved, the article will probably be amended properly and re-published.

I mention this article largely to just point out that dispute of fossil ownership is something that every paleontologist has to contend with. As far as I can tell, there is no indication that commercial or private collectors were involved with the removal of this fossil: it was conducted entirely by academics. It just goes to show how careful paleontologists have to be. One common theme, however, is that the value of the fossil is partly was sparked the controversy. Ubirajara jubatus is a unique dinosaur that has been found with some unique features. If it was just a boring, common, uninteresting fossil, Brazilian officials may not have cared about it or even noticed it, but since it is important, now there is clamor to “bring it home to Brazil.” Humans will be humans: be they private, commercial, or academic, everyone is willing to fight for, or pay good money for, the popular things.

Thoughts from Steven

iTo see the note about the removed article, see the link https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195667120303736?via%3Dihub. To read about the contention over the fossil, see https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/12/one-of-a-kind-dinosaur-removed-from-brazil-sparks-legal-investigation/.