Fossils withdrawn from auction donated to new Kansas museum

Sun May 11, 2014 1:53pm EDT
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By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A collection of 85 million-year-old fossils including a fish as big as a great white shark with a face like a bulldog has been donated to a new Kansas museum after an outcry from scientists helped scrap a San Diego museum's plans to sell them at auction.

The San Diego Natural History Museum last November reversed its plans to sell the fossils, which could have fetched hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction, after critics argued such valuable prehistoric material should stay in the public domain.

The donation was announced on Sunday by the San Diego museum and the Museum at Prairiefire in Overland Park outside Kansas City, Kansas, a $28 million institution set to open on Monday.

The decision coincides with a lively debate in the museum community over institutions selling off parts of their collections to raise funds.

"We were just over the moon to be offered these items," Uli Sailer Das, executive director of the new museum, said in a telephone interview. "We think it's a vote of confidence in us as a new institution that the San Diego Natural History Museum entrusted us with these objects."

The five items being donated were unearthed in Kansas in the early 20th century by famed fossil hunter Charles Sternberg.

They include a 16-foot-long (4.9 meters) skeleton of a bony fish called Xiphactinus, one of the terrors of an inland sea that covered the region in the Cretaceous Period towards the end of the age of dinosaurs. Xiphactinus, known for its bulldog-like jaws, probably preyed on other fish, squid and even big flightless diving birds.


The exterior of the new Museum at Prairiefire in Overland Park, Kansas is pictured in this undated photo courtesy of The Museum at Prairiefire provided to Reuters on May 11, 2014. REUTERS/The Museum at Prairiefire/Handout via Reuters