What Do You Do If You Find a Dinosaur Bone?

dinosaur-bone Credit: Mike Beauregard/CC-BY 2.0

Individuals who believe that they have found a fossilized dinosaur bone in an outdoor area should avoid touching it and instead take a photo and make note of its exact location using a map before making contact with a natural history museum such as the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. However, this procedure is not legally binding, particularly if the fossil is discovered on private land, though moral obligation may tell a different story. In the United States, individuals who find a fossil on their land are not required to report or hand it over to any authority.

While the potential scientific knowledge that can be gained from such a specimen has great intellectual value, this may not be as alluring as the potential millions of dollars the fossil's new owner can score by entering the artifact into a public auction. Those who want to try and have it both ways by selling the fossil to a museum may find their ambitions disappointed, as public or academic institutions such as museums tend to be unable to match the high prices dinosaur fossils can fetch at auction. The more rare and scientifically valuable a fossil is, the more likely it is to fetch a big price in the international fossil market.