Montana State University is trying to put a value on dinosaur bones after state auditors said they need it for insurance policies, despite opposition from Museum of the Rockies’ dinosaur experts who say it’s unethical and dangerous to treat scientific research like it is marketable.
Paleontologists say putting a dollar value on bones only encourages treasure hunters to dig up fossils. They said unsupervised excavation could destroy important details that scientists get from bones and their environment. They also warn it could put a high price on historic artifacts that would go to the highest bidder, instead of places open to the public.
Putting a value on fossils is included among recommendations that the state’s Legislative Audit Division made to Montana State University. The state said prices are needed to make sure the collections are properly insured.
University spokeswoman Tracy Ellig said the university has already complied or is making progress with all the audit recommendations.
Jeff Krauss, museum finance director, said it would take a lot of time and effort to come up with a monetary value for the 360,000 or more items in the museum’s collections, which includes a small dinosaur knuckle.
Auditors found that the $64.5 million market value that MSU reported for its museum collections for insurance purposes, which include other collections such as vintage appliances, didn’t have supporting documentation.
Krauss said there is no way to put a value on them.
“If they’re stolen or destroyed, would we buy new ones? No, we would not, that would not be ethical,” he said. “We would dig for new ones, probably. What’s the cost? It’s not as simple as a store’s inventory.”
Krauss said the auditors also want the museum to put a dollar value on collections so they can be placed on the state’s balance sheet, which raises the possibility that someone may try to cash in some day.
“That is one thing that makes museum people nervous,” Krauss said. “It sends shivers down the spines of curators and museum professionals.”