Singapore Art Week has crept in on us. While we are enthralled by Daniel Ashram’s idea of fictional archaeology,  we suggest that you go back to basics and check out real fossils lest you get disenchanted by those post-modern pieces of plaster arranged in a haphazard manner.

Set in Stone gallery, the only independent fossil gallery in Asia, curates and exhibits the real deal at their Winter Exhibition. All the fossils exhibited are for sale and some come with a hefty 6-figure price tag. The gallery is owned and managed by Cliff Hartono, banker turned fossil collector. Ever since Cliff’s father gifted him an extinct marine arthropod fossil as a child, his interest in fossils was piqued. This sliver of childhood wistfulness was revived when he visited London’s Natural History Museum.

Cliff hopes that one day, Set in Stone’s collection will be part of an exhibition space in a museum. With a bigger outreach, he dreams that the collection will inspire others to appreciate fossils and be more aware of the natural history that surrounds us.

One of the highlights of the Winter Exhibition, currently ongoing till 19 January 2014, is a rare turtle found in Wyoming. It is amazing that the limbs and tail are present in high-definition detail, as turtles tend to withdraw their limbs when in shock.

Popspoken: What are your thoughts about the sustainable excavation of fossils?

Cliff: I think the discovery of new fossils is very important in helping us understand the world around us and our past. I spoke to a researcher at a natural history museum in Europe recently and one topic we discussed was the lack of public funding at both museums and universities. One unfortunate consequence of this was a significant fossil site being used for landfill. I think this is rather regrettable and perhaps an example of where a thriving commercial trade in fossils could prevent some of these fossil sites from being shut down.

Popspoken: Fossils are natural occurrences. Nature should be free. Why should people pay a premium to buy your fossils?

Cliff: The excavation of fossils is very capital intensive – you have to buy/lease the land, buy equipment, hire a team, ship and also prepare the fossils. Currently there is simply not enough government funding and this is where commercial operators fill in the gap. It is quite common for museums to buy specimens from them as they themselves would not have the resources to operate various sites on their own. If these commercial operators are not allowed to sell fossils, they would not be able to make a living and operate these quarries in the first place. Simply put, without the commercial side to fossils, a lot of fossils would not be found in the first place.

Winter Exhibition Details

Opening Hours: Friday – Sunday, 12pm – 7pm
Dates: 6th Dec 2013 – 19th Jan 2014
Location: 39 Keppel Road, Tanjong Pagar Distripark, Singapore 089065

For sneak previews or viewings outside regular hours, email [email protected] for an appointment.