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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Dinosaur Bone Ownership Resolved

Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton

Ton Bangkeaw/Shutterstock.com

In 2018, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that fossils belonged to mineral rights owners, threatening to put a damper on scientific fossil hunting by paleontologists, but the Montana Supreme Court has now decided that fossils should not be deemed minerals, thereby restoring ownership of two dinosaurs buried together to the landowners, as had been customary in the past. A year after buying their property, Mary Anne and Lige Murray, along with a private fossil hunter, found an impressive array of specimens, including a complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton. Scientists like David Polly, an Indiana University paleontologist and past president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, had warned that tying fossils to mineral rights would make it harder to get permission to excavate them and put the ownership of fossils already on display into doubt. They also feared that distinctive fossils would be purchased by private collectors, denying access to the public and researchers.
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