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Curse of T. rex

Classroom Activity

To debate ownership by researchers and commercial dealers of fossils found on public land.

Materials for each team
  • copy of "Digging Fossils" student handout (PDF or HTML)
  1. Divide the class in half, assigning one group to represent scientists and the other group to represent commercial dealers. Copy and distribute the "Digging Fossils" student handout.

  2. As they watch, have students do Part I, taking notes on major goals and issues their group has about collecting, buying, and selling fossils from public land.

  3. After the program, propose to students that a fossil-rich site has been discovered on public land. Have each group of students work together to develop the strongest argument for their claimant (scientists or commercial dealers), using what they learned from the program and the focus questions in Part II of the "Digging Fossils" student handout. Then have students present their arguments.

  4. To follow up, point out that scientists and commercial dealers are not always at odds. Have students evaluate the program's proposed solution and suggest additional ways to enable the competing groups to work together.

Activity Answer

Who should have access to fossils found on public land is not a clear-cut issue. Students might consider several points: the fairness of allowing only certain groups access to public land, how fossils provide the raw data from which scientists reconstruct the past, and how the unavailability or inaccurate collection of fossils might affect scientific progress.

The scientists group might raise the following issues: Commercial dealers often do not collect carefully, omitting important contextual data such as other fossils that lie nearby, or clues as to how the animal died. By paying private land owners for access to their land, commercial dealers inflate the value of fossils and prohibit access to academic collectors who cannot afford to pay. Fossils collected by commercial dealers are sometimes not documented accurately.

The commercial dealers group might argue: They are unfairly blamed for the bad work of a few. They invest a lot of money and time to collect and prepare fossils and should be paid accordingly. They often collect and preserve fossils that would otherwise have been lost to erosion.

Teacher's Guide
Curse of T. rex

Video is required for this activity