Sunday, May 16, 2004

Who Owns the Bones? Have a look at this article from today's New York Times (you might have to register before viewing it). It describes a forthcoming auction of Tyrannosaurus Rex bones:

When Japheth Boyce was a tyke in South Dakota, he liked to scrabble around in the barren, rocky ground of the Badlands, hunting for fossils of saber-toothed tigers, rhinoceroses and three-toed horses the size of golden retrievers.

Now, years later, as a paleontologist with a penchant for cowboy hats and homespun philosophy, his favorite prey is Tyrannosaurus rex, the carnivorous dinosaur he calls “the biggest and baddest boy on the block.”

On Sunday, hundreds of fossilized bones from a 68-million-year-old T. rex that Mr. Boyce and his team spent two years digging up in eastern Wyoming will be sold here in what is being billed as the largest auction of natural history items to date. The bones, which are about 20 percent of the skeleton of the animal, nicknamed Barnum, are expected to fetch at least $900,000.

Actually, the part of the article I found most interesting came later. In this quote, &dquo;Barnum” is the particulae T-Rex whose bones are about to be sold. “Sue” refers to an earlier skeleton.

The satisfaction of unearthing the remains was dampened for Mr. Boyce and his team by a dispute over ownership of the bones. A similar clash had roiled the disposition of Sue.

“There were several years of federal litigation,” said Joe Reece, a lawyer in Denver who represented a group of investors who had sought to buy the Barnum bones from Mr. Boyce and his business partners. “This has generated many, many boxes of documents in three states.”

One of the investors, Jeff Miller, an art and antiques dealer in Denver, said he and his partners had been assured that there was clear title to the remains. Instead, among other problems, they became an issue in the divorce of one of Mr. Boyce's partners, whose wife claimed the bones in the disposition of their assets.

Eventually, a court ordered Barnum be sold at auction and the proceeds distributed among the various parties.

I guess Mr. Boyce's partner needed a better pre-nup.