December 1st, 2005.
The Wyoming Dinosaur Center and Dig Sites would like to issue the following clarification on specimen WDC-CSG-100, the Thermopolis specimen of Archaeopteryx.
Specimens of Archaeopteryx are both rare and of great scientific importance. As a result, the publication of our specimen is generating a great deal of media coverage. As a small museum we depend on name recognition, and naturally welcome publicity. On the other hand, this is putting the specimen and our museum into the spotlight in ways we had not anticipated. We have become aware that some reports in the media are highlighting potential conflicts between private organizations and practicing of proper science. While the reporters who have contacted us have been friendly and competent, some news outlets may have inadvertently sensationalized the issue.
The specimen's value (scientifically and monetarily) raises concerns about proper curation and future access to scientists. The Wyoming Dinosaur Center (WDC) welcomes the opportunity to discuss and address these very important issues. We want to achieve fail-proof protection for the specimen, and ensure that scientific access is maintained at all times. Open discourse on this subject is the only way we can make sure that all expectations are met.
Peer-review is important in science, and we expect this will extend to all aspects of the WDC’s handling of this specimen. We encourage colleagues to share their concerns with us.
History of the Specimen: Because Solnhofen quarries are privately owned, all specimens of Archaeopteryx start out in private hands. The history of the Thermopolis specimen, however, is more circuitous than most. The specimen was initially discovered in the estate of a Swiss fossil collector who had passed away in the 1970’s. The widow at first approached the Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt, Germany. They could not raise the funds to acquire the specimen, so they approached WDC founder Burkhard Pohl. Mr. Pohl found an anonymous donor who was willing to put up the funds to pay for the specimen. Because the specimen had to be re-imported into Germany, Mr. Pohl also negotiated the legal standing of the specimen and it’s providence. Due to the wishes of the donor, and Mr. Pohl’s association with the WDC, it was agreed that after an initial period of study and display in Germany the specimen would be given on long-term loan to the Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyoming. This brings us to where we are now; the initial description has come out, and more papers are likely to follow. After proper preparation on our part (see below), the specimen will be sent to the WDC for display and curation.
Scientific Access: Of greatest concern to most is the issue of accessibility of the specimen. As most paleontologists are aware, one specimen of Archaeopteryx, the so-called Maxburg specimen, was kept in a private collection and eventually lost to science. This is a poignant reminder of the importance of keeping specimens available to scientists, so that future studies may replicate and/or falsify previous research. With that in mind, a condition of the deal that Mr. Pohl negotiated is the commitment that the specimen will always remain in a museum or public institution. While we have every intention of continuing to exist, should the WDC ever become insolvent, the specimen would have to go to another research institution. This protects the monetary investment of the donor, and allows the donor to exert some preference as to what museum it ends up in, should an unforeseen tragedy befall the WDC. In the event that the WDC could no longer curate the specimen, a transfer could take place in the following manner: The specimen could be put on loan in another museum, with the same conditions of access for research, it could be donated to a museum or university of the donors choice, or it could be sold to a public research institution. And of course the donor retains the option to donate the specimen to the WDC, at which point the same guarantees would remain in place. In all scenarios, the specimen will remain available for research, and hopefully remain on display to the public. Every step has been taken to ensure that there is complete scientific continuity in terms of documentation and access. We do not pretend that the situation is perfect; the circumstances under which the specimen was collected preclude knowledge of specific locality information, and prevent high-resolution stratigraphic correlation. That information had already been lost by the time the Senckenberg became aware of the specimen. In addition, it is worth pointing out that there were other interested parties (including individuals in Asia and the Middle East) that were interested in the specimen. We cannot know what circumstances such purchases would have been made under, but since some were private collectors, it is entirely possible that the specimen would not have been made available for study. Therefore, we are grateful not just for the honor of housing such an important specimen, but also that the specimen was acquired by someone with an appreciation for science and the importance of keeping the specimen permanently available to researchers. We extend our sincerest thanks to the private donor, to Burkhard Pohl, and to the Senckenberg Museum.
Curation: Proper curation of the specimen is one of our highest priorities. We already have an excellent fire suppression system, in a largely metal and concrete building. In addition, the case that will contain the specimen will also be fireproof. Aside from physical destruction, theft is another obvious concern. Because of the substantial investment made in the specimen, it has always been a stipulation of the deal that we must have adequate safeguards in place prior to the specimen being put on display in Thermopolis. The final security system will be approved by the donor before the specimen leaves the Senckenberg. For obvious reasons we do not want to publicize details of the security measures being installed, every step is being taken to protect the value of the specimen, both scientifically and financially. Proper curation also requires adequate record keeping. We have already started a long-term overhaul of our collections management system. The addition of the Thermopolis specimen of Archaeopteryx will only add impetus to this procedure. We aim to meet public guidelines for proper curation, and will apply for accreditation with the appropriate organizations once we are done.
Contact the WDC at (800) 455-3466
or email Scott Hartman at firstname.lastname@example.org