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Bidding for Fossils

June 07, 1998

Re "Natural Resources," June 1:

Glenn White was quoted as saying, "I am an avid believer in the free-market system. If museums want these pieces, let them buy them on the market like the rest of us." Perhaps White is unclear on the concept. If he is in a position to buy and sell museum-quality objects, he is perhaps also in a position to receive a sizable tax deduction for donations of the objects to public institutions, which simply do not have the funds to compete in his marketplace.

Most museums are supported by public funds and private donations. Funds are largely designated toward conservation and preparing exhibits for the education and enrichment of a large public audience. The private sector is perpetually encouraged to contribute hard cash as well as donations of relevant objects.

The much greater tragedy resulting from private sponsorship and ownership of "natural resources" is that the practice encourages looting: clandestine and illegal recovery or excavation. The loss of scientific information from associated contexts when buried materials are removed from their resting places by amateur or experienced looters is massive and irreparable.

NANCY K. PORTER, Manhattan Beach

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