The San Diego Museum of Natural History withdrew a set of fossils from auction this week after paleontologists voiced their strong opposition to the sale.
The museum sought to sell a dozen deaccessioned fossils, seven of which had been collected and prepared by the legendary dinosaur hunter Charles H. Sternberg. In the 1920s, Sternberg sold the San Diego museum the specimens, including a section of a hadrosaur tail, the skull of a Chasmosaurus and a mounted skeleton of a 13-foot-long (4 meters) prehistoric fish called Xiphactinus.
"By offering these vertebrate fossils at public auction, their loss to the public trust is virtually guaranteed," scientists with the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology had said in a statement, according to the Associated Press. "Such an action also supports the commercialization of vertebrate fossils that has become so destructive to our science."
In withdrawing the items, museum officials said they would "revisit alternative strategies" to keep the fossils in the public trust, adding that public institutions have now expressed interest in taking over stewardship of the specimens.
"It was not our intent to sell the fossils for financial gain nor to minimize the historical importance of these specimens," museum officials said in a statement. "Rather, our intent was to deaccession specimens unrelated to our mission (which interprets the region of southern California and Baja California) in order to acquire scientifically important fossils, gems and minerals that more closely support that regional mission."
Bonhams in New York was supposed to handle the sale today (Nov. 19) during its natural history auction, in which another somewhat controversial lot could sell for a record price. A pair of fossils discovered in 2006 known as the Montana Dueling Dinosaurs is estimated to sell for $7-$9 million. But some researchers are worried the specimen, which has not yet been curated by a museum or extensively studied, could be lost to science if it ends up in private hands.