January 25, 2010
It is not every day that authorities hold a dinosaur as evidence of a crime.
In 2002 a team of paleontologists organized by amateur fossil hunter Nate Murphy discovered the bones of a small, nearly complete raptor dinosaur on a ranch in Montana. Murphy could tell immediately that it was something new, but he decided to conceal his discovery from the ranch owners (a mistake, especially since it turned out that the fossil was actually on the property of a neighboring ranch owner). Later Murphy would excavate the entire skeleton himself, trying to hide it while he arranged for copies of it to be made for sale, but he was charged with and convicted of several fossil-collecting crimes. All the while the significant new specimen was tied up in red tape.
Now the ownership of that fossil has been returned to the landowners, and they are looking for a buyer. As reported in the Great Falls Tribune, the fossil, now undergoing preparation at the Black Hills Institute, has caught the eye of two major museums (and the BHI will also sell full replicas to the tune of $12,500 apiece). Regardless of where it ends up, though, the study of this new dinosaur will probably take a few years more to complete. Solid research can’t be rushed, and paleontologists will be relieved when the specimen comes to reside at a reputable institution.
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