New York Times looks at the hidden cost of amber paleontology

This week, scientists announced a study of one of the most significant Cretaceous fossil discoveries within a chunk of amber from Myanmar, the tiny skull of a dinosaur or dinosaur-like reptile. Lucas Joel in the New York Times looks at the human and environmental toll of the amber-mining:

A report published last year in Science Magazine detailed how the amber is mined in a state where Myanmar’s military has long fought another ethnic minority, the Kachin, and how amber gets smuggled into China, where it can fetch high prices, potentially fueling that conflict.
These concerns are leading more scientists, especially in Western countries, to shun the use of this amber in paleontological research.
“Ever since the Rohingya crisis, I’ve boycotted the purchase of Burmese amber, and have urged amber colleagues to do the same,” said David Grimaldi, a paleontologist and the curator of amber specimens at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Fossil discoveries in amber are often very exciting, but the most high-profile discoveries are a tiny fraction of a much larger amber industry. Finding a tiny dinosaur head and promoting it across the world fuels more interest in amber, and gives a slightly higher market value to every piece of amber with a fossil insect in it.

It’s not easy to know what a paleontologist should do. It’s not too unusual that many paleontologists decline to work on fossil material from Myanmar amber. What’s interesting is the number of paleontologists in the article who have declined to comment on discoveries from amber.