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Gazette Premium Content Kan. fossils removed from NY auction after outcry

Associated Press Updated: November 18, 2013 at 10:30 pm

HAYS, Kan. (AP) — A California museum has withdrawn 12 fossils it had listed for sale in an auction scheduled for Tuesday, including seven it purchased from Kansas scientist Charles Sternberg in the 1920s.

The San Diego Natural History Museum posted an announcement on its website Monday saying that it had removed the items that were to be sold by New York-based Bonhams auction house.

"The fossils in question include seven large vertebrate fossils collected and sold to the Museum by Charles Sternberg in the 1920s, and represent a fraction of the Sternberg specimens currently housed in our research collection," the museum's announcement said. "The remaining five auction specimens are Green River Formation fish fossils added to the Museum's collection in the 1970s."

That's welcome news to those who had criticized the decision to sell the fossils collected by Charles H. Sternberg, patriarch of the fossil-collecting family that included Levi, Charles M. and George, the former director of Sternberg Museum.

The Kansas items included several pieces that Sternberg adjunct curator Mike Everhart would love to have for his museum. But he said the museum doesn't have the money to bid on the collection.

"Historically, I consider them all priceless because they were collected by Charles Sternberg," Everhart told The Hays Daily News.

Opening bids were expected to start at between $100,000 and $125,000 on one of the pieces, a Xiphactinus fish collected in the 1920s in western Kansas. The specimen is 13 feet long. Another, a 17-foot-long mosasaur, was also found in Kansas and has a starting price of between $75,000 and $100,000.

Everhart said he also struggled with the possibility that Sternberg fossils may go to private collectors. The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology also issued a statement critical of the San Diego museum's decision to sell the fossils.

"By offering these vertebrate fossils at public auction, their loss to the public trust is virtually guaranteed," the SVP said in the statement. "Such an action also supports the commercialization of vertebrate fossils that has become so destructive to our science. It is equally disheartening to see the legacy of Charles H. Sternberg used to promote the commercial sale of these museum fossils."

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