Prehistoric Planet of Marion County supplies replica fossils to institutions, researchers, and collectors around the world.

Not everyone who wants a dinosaur fossil can have the genuine article—there simply aren’t enough to go around. Enter Prehistoric Planet of Barrackville, a supplier of replica fossils to institutions and collectors everywhere. “We call ourselves ‘the museum where you can purchase every exhibit,’” says co-owner Ray Garton.

A Webster County native, Ray worked earlier in his career as a geologic consultant. But his passion was paleontology and, in the mid-1990s, paleontologist friends persuaded him he could support that passion by selling replicas. “There are only a handful of semi-complete T. rex skeletons in the world,” Ray says by way of example. “Even the Smithsonian, their T. rex, their Triceratops, those are fiberglass replicas.” And some types of research can be done just as well with less fragile, less precious versions, he says. “Some paleontologists will get research-quality casts to measure and photograph. So replicas play a very important role in scientific research.”

Ray had worked as a preparator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, where he saw enough molds made to figure out how to do it himself. By 1999 he established Prehistoric Planet’s online store, Prehistoric Store, to sell his own fossil replicas.

Fifteen years later Prehistoric Planet offers more than 1,000 replicas online and can supply thousands of others on request. It’s a market dominated by three or four large companies, several of which make museum-quality pieces—a distinction that comes mostly in the painting. “They do superb work and they charge a lot of money,” Ray says. “We have a T. rex skeleton at $60,000—the next closest is probably over $100,000.” Some of Prehistoric Planet’s inventory is museum quality; but most items are more affordable casts made from original specimens by any of a dozen suppliers, often purchased unfinished by Prehistoric Planet and painted in-house.

His most popular item is a replica megalodon shark tooth for $20. “That really becomes crazy during (Discovery Channel’s) Shark Week,” Ray says. Also very popular are replica T. rex teeth, ranging from a miniature 1.5 inches long and a few dollars to a life-size 15 inches that sells for $80. Casts of velociraptor claws, at $10, satisfy lots of customers, too. Prehistoric Planet’s most expensive item is that $60,000 replica skeleton of a 30-foot-long juvenile T. rex.

Ray’s company fills 2,000 or so orders each year from two jam-packed Marion County warehouses. It’s a small team: just Ray, his wife, and one employee who paints replicas. Among the company’s clients are the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.; the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh; the television shows CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and The X-Files; along with museums, educational institutions, and individual customers Ray is sure hail from all 50 states as well as countries as far away as Australia, Chile, Korea, the Netherlands, and Thailand.

Amateur geologists and paleontologists across the state are invited to contact Ray for help identifying their finds. “A family was delivered a pile of gravel, and this kid was playing in it and found a chunk,” he recounts, just one example of a common amateur find. “It ended up being one of the very best shark spines I’d ever seen, five by three inches, pretty blue bone. It’s on exhibit now at the Geological and Economic Survey. So it’s not necessarily the professionals who find the stuff. And people don’t just have to watch it on the Discovery Channel. It’s happening right here in West Virginia.”

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