Ah, it’s a wonderful thing to live in this modern age, where a remarkable scientific find, such as the discovery of a 47-million-year-old fossil that could possibly be a missing link between primates and the rest of the animal kingdom, is presented to the public with a media blitz rivaled only by the release of the new Green Day album:
On Tuesday morning, researchers will unveil a 47-million-year-old fossil they say could revolutionize the understanding of human evolution at a ceremony at the American Museum of Natural History.
But the event, which will coincide with the publishing of a peer-reviewed article about the find, is the first stop in a coordinated, branded media event, orchestrated by the scientists and the History Channel, including a film detailing the secretive two-year study of the fossil, a book release, an exclusive arrangement with ABC News and an elaborate Web site.
“Any pop band is doing the same thing,” said Jorn H. Hurum, a scientist at the University of Oslo who acquired the fossil and assembled the team of scientists that studied it. “Any athlete is doing the same thing. We have to start thinking the same way in science.”
What intrigues me most about the story is, not the marketing of the fossil, or even the significance of the find itself, but how the fossil was discovered. In what I’ve read so far, this point has been relatively glossed over, usually just briefly touched upon as a a small plot point in the larger story of how this Jorn Hurum character acquired the fossil.
According to The Guardian, an amateur fossil hunter found it in 1983 at a well-known fossil site in Germany, then proceeded not to tell anyone about it for over 20 years before selling it to a dealer, who in turn sold it to Hurum. The New York Times goes on to mention that the fossil had sat in the collector’s drawer for the intervening years.
What I want to know is, why would a collector keep a potentially huge — and profitable — find to himself for 20 years? Was he stymied on what to do with it? Maybe he didn’t realize the scope of what he’d found, though if he was an “amateur fossil hunter,” one would think he would at least be rudimentarily versed enough in the field to recognize the significance of what he’d find. If that is the case, then perhaps being a collector, he kept it for himself because he enjoyed admiring it to satisfy his own pleasure, like one of those rich old men one occasionally hears whispered rumors about, who buy stolen, priceless paintings merely for the gratification of knowing that they possess them and no one else does.
Of course the most likely and reasonable theory is that the guy stumbled over the fossil, thought, “Hey — shiny,” took it home, shoved it in a desk in his collectibles and curiosities room — in between his Phantom memorabilia and Tarzan first editions — and promptly forgot about it for 20+ years. Until one day, when he begins cleaning out the room, because his wife’s been bitching about how there’s too much goddamn crap in his “man cave,” and it was either organize the room already or kill his wife, and he got the feeling that if he did kill her, she would just haunt him till he died, because that’s just the kind of harpy she is. And so as he’s going through things, he opens this desk, and BAM — there’s this old fossil he found back in the day, and he realizes that maybe he can sell it for some serious coin. Enough to possibly build an extra room to house his many other treasures, thus negating his wife’s bitching — or maybe just to hire someone to kill his wife.
I’m sure my carefully thought-out theories will be proved wrong in the coming days as more about the find is announced, but in the meantime feel free to regard them as the truth, which as we all know, does not have to have any basis in fact.