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Few plants and animals become fossils, with less than 0.01% of all animals becoming fossilized. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find one, if you know where to look, that is. Still, is it legal to sell the fossils you discover?
You can sell fossils that you find if it was found on your private property. However, you cannot legally sell fossils discovered on federal property, private property belonging to someone else, or public property.
This article will delve into the legality of selling the fossils you find. We’ll also discuss how valuable fossils can be and how to sell fossils for the highest price. You can use this information to ensure that you’re selling fossils legally and to high-paying buyers, so stick around.
Is It Legal To Sell Fossils?
Selling fossils is legal in the United States, but only if the fossils were discovered on your private property. The legality of selling any given fossil depends more on where you found the fossil than what kind of fossil it is. If you found them on public land, federal land, or private property belonging to someone else, you cannot legally sell them.
In the United States, fossils found on privately owned property or land are considered the legal property of the landowner. So, if you find a fossil in the backyard of a property you own, you can do whatever you like.
I’ve discussed this in more detail in my article on what you can do with fossils found in your backyard: Can You Find Fossils in Your Backyard?
However, fossils found on residential property owned by another party aren’t automatically yours. So, if you rent your home and find a fossil in your yard, you cannot legally sell it unless you get your landlord’s permission to sell it.
Defining what is and isn’t public property can quickly get tricky, as public property is technically land that belongs to the government and not the public.
Common examples of public property include:
- Public roadways
- State and national parks
Generally, removing or selling fossils found on public lands and property is illegal, especially in national parks throughout the United States. But there are a few notable exceptions to this rule.
Public Places In the US Where It’s Legal To Take and Sell Fossils
Big Brook Nature Preserve in Colts Neck, New Jersey, welcomes fossil hunters. As long as you adhere to the park’s rules, you’re welcome to take home and sell fossils unearthed at the preserve.
Another example of a public park in the United States that welcomes fossil hunters is Westmoreland State Park in Montross, Virginia.
Visitors here are welcome to search for fossilized megalodon teeth along the shores of the Potomac River (specifically a spot called Fossil Beach). If you’re unsure whether you’re allowed to take home the fossils you’ve found, you can always check in with the staff at the park office.
There’s also the aptly-named Fossil Park in Sylvania, Ohio. This disused rock quarry has become a major attraction thanks to its diverse range of Devonian Period fossils.
That said, trilobites are one of the most common fossilized creatures found here.
One of the only major rules park staff implement is that you cannot use tools to unearth them. It’s also essential to only search for fossils in designated areas, but apart from that, what you find, you keep.
Still, these are just a few exceptions to the general rule: “If you find a fossil on public property, don’t touch it.“
However, this only applies to the United States, as the rules regarding fossil collection, ownership, and sales rights vary from country to country. For example, fossil hunters who discover specimens along the United Kingdom’s Jurassic Coast have a much higher chance of being able to take fossils home or sell them to interested buyers.
Outside the United States: Fossil Hunting Along the Jurassic Coast
The Jurassic Coast in the United Kingdom is a popular destination for fossil hunters. The rules regarding ownership and sales rights of fossils found in this area differ significantly from the rules and restrictions imposed throughout the United States.
Fossil hunters who discover a fossil along the 95 miles (152.88 km) of this coastline are encouraged to record their find at the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre. Those who find rare fossils (Category 1 fossils) must register their discoveries.
After notifying the staff at the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre of your find, you’ll either be permitted to take the fossil home with you or required to allow various museums to showcase the fossil for a maximum period of one year.
If you’re allowed to take the fossil home, it’s officially your property. Consequently, you can choose to keep or sell it as you wish.
However, the same rules don’t apply to all fossils discovered in the United Kingdom.
So, before you attempt to sell a fossil you’ve recently discovered, you’ll want to consider the rules and restrictions of the district, region, state, or country where you found it.
How To Inquire About the Legal Aspects of Selling Fossils
If you’re a homeowner in the United States and you find a fossil on your property, you don’t need to contact anyone before selling it. However, if you’re hunting for fossils in another country or on property that belongs to someone else, the legality of selling your found fossils can get tricky.
If you need clarification on whether you can legally sell a fossil you’ve found, it’s crucial to reach out to:
- The owner of the property where you found the fossil.
- An environmental agency representing the state where the fossil was discovered.
- Local universities and colleges.
- Nearby natural history museums.
You’ll also want to leave the fossil exactly where you found it until you’ve spoken with a knowledgeable representative, curator, or current property owner. In some cases, such as finding fossils at state parks, removing the fossil and taking it home is illegal and can result in hefty fines.
When in doubt, take a picture of your find, log its location, and wait to act until you’ve received approval to remove and/or sell the fossil.
How Valuable Are Fossils?
The value of any given fossil varies significantly depending on the fossil’s rarity, condition, and size. Let’s use one of the most common fossilized creatures, trilobites, to illustrate how these factors impact value.
A small 1” (25.4 mm) common trilobite fossil can sell for about $20, even less if you buy in bulk.
But large or rare trilobite fossils, like those containing multiple fossilized creatures, can cost thousands of dollars. When it comes to these types of fossils, size and rarity are the two factors that significantly influence fossil value.
That said, fossils often sell for various prices depending on their type.
So, while size, rarity, and condition play crucial roles in determining a fossil’s value, the type of fossil you find can also make a huge difference in the final sale price.
The Least Valuable Types of Fossils
Generally, the last valuable types of fossils include the following:
- Singular bones or bone fragments
- Footprints and creature imprints
These fossils are far from worthless, but they sell for far less than others due to their small size, commonness, or incomplete status.
The Most Valuable Types of Fossils
If you’ve stumbled upon a rare find or a complete fossilized skeleton, you’re in luck. Rare and complete fossils can sell for thousands, and sometimes millions, of dollars.
Some examples of rare and valuable fossils include:
- Those featuring the fossilized skeletons of multiple creatures.
- Those depicting interactions between creatures.
- Those created by rare or unknown extinct species.
- Those showcasing the complete skeletons of extinct creatures.
One of the most infamous examples of a high-value fossil is Fighting Dinosaurs.
This massive two-skeleton specimen is made of fossilized protoceratops and velociraptor remains. It’s one of the most famous worldwide due to its depiction of aggressive behavior between two long-extinct species.
Similar fossils showing two dinosaurs fighting have sold for as much as $6 million.
In the United States, you can legally sell fossils that you find on private property as long as you’re the property owner.
However, fossils discovered on federal or state property, public property, or private property owned by someone else can be claimed by other parties, making them illegal to sell. Still, laws and regulations vary depending on the country and region where the fossil was found.
Before you begin fossil hunting on public, government-owned, or privately owned lands, inquire about whether you’re permitted to keep and sell fossils you find there.