Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Bone of contention

One day, three guys came into the shop and marched up to the counter. One turned to the other and said 'Show him the merchandise, Tommy'. (Name is random guess). 'Tommy' plonked in front of me a nice example of articulated plesiosaur vertebrae in matrix. I think three of them, nicely aligned. They asked me what I thought. So I told them

They are plesiosaur vertebrae, looks like they are from Dorset, putting them probably roughly 190 million years old. They were in reasonable condition, but had some boreholes from marine creatures, and some serpulid worm casts. Clear signs that the item had been in the sea for some time.

It was apparent from their disappointing opening line what they were after. A valuation. I sell individual vertebra in good nick for £34, but three together and in matrix made for a nice example. To the right buyer, I reckoned a commercial value of around £180. Fairly generous, I thought. They didn't. In fact, they were within spitting distance of outraged.

'Tell him where you found it, Tommy.'

'Loch Ness.'

'Ah.' I said. Fearing the worst.
'Well, it definitely didn't come from there originally', I replied, 'You can tell from the borings and the casts, here. And I've seen quite a lot of these from the Dorset site, and it looks very much like those.' I suggested maybe it had been used as a demonstrative tool by a tour guide, but no, it had been found underneath a bit of sand, so that was definitely not how it had got there.

They weren't having it. Turns out they'd already been up to the museum and shown it to a geology curator I know. They hadn't been happy with what he'd told them, either.

Exit - stage left - disgusted.

Next day's Daily Tabloid had an excitable front page story about it - which had a couple of pictures of stern-faced finders and a piece using carefully cut quotes to make my friend the curator appear to not dismiss the claims outright, and so making him out to be a bit of a fool. Knowing him to be far from that, I phoned him. He was very angry. Turned out he'd told them more or less the same thing as I later did, but for professional reasons, was unable to provide evaluations. Hence their visit to me.

Later in the day, I get a phone call from Rival Tabloid. They want to know what I thought about the find. So I told them what I had told the disgruntled finders. And also about the hatchet job on the curator. Next day's Rival Tabloid's third page has 'Fossil Man calls Nessie Men Liars' type headline. Brilliant. But at least it cleared the curator's name a little, as it gave him a chance to make his points in full.

The anticipated return of brick-wielding finders never happened.

No comments: