Thursday, September 18, 2008

Update on the Montana "alleged" fossils theift story

Another story was published yesterday regarding the "alleged" theft of a small theropod skeleton in Montana. Portions of it can be found below and you can read the entire story here. I also encourage you to read some of the enlightening and interesting comments my previous blog story has received.

From the Billing Gazette:

Colleague takes digs at paleontologist
Texas curator stands by fossil Leonardo - but not by man who discovered it
By Ed Kemmick of The Gazette Staff

Montana's most famous dinosaur fossil soon will go on display in Texas unaffected by criminal charges against the paleontologist who discovered it, a museum official said.

Bob Bakker, curator of paleontology for the Houston Museum of Natural Science, said everything related to the discovery, excavation and preparation of the duckbill dinosaur nicknamed Leonardo was scientifically sound and well-documented.

Montana paleontologist Nate Murphy, who led the dig when Leonardo was discovered north of Malta in 2000, was charged last week with felony theft of a small raptor fossil.

The other good news from Houston, Bakker said, is that Leonardo wasn't damaged by Hurricane Ike, which battered Houston and the Gulf Coast over the weekend.

"Leo is safe," Bakker said. "That is the important thing. The whole museum did quite well."

The exhibition, "Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation," was scheduled to open Friday. Because of Hurricane Ike, the opening probably will be delayed a couple of days, Bakker said.

The theft charges, filed in Phillips County, allege that Murphy stole the raptor fossil, which when alive weighed about as much as a red fox, from property owned by Bruce Bruckner and leased to Howard and JoAnn Hammond, on whose land Leonardo was discovered in 2000.

In an article in the Great Falls Tribune last week, Murphy said the whole thing was simply a misunderstanding. He said he and his son found the raptor under a fossilized turtle and didn't even realize the raptor was there at first.

The charging documents say Murphy initially told the Hammonds that the raptor in question was another specimen found near Saco.

Bakker, who has been cooperating with the state since it began investigating the case in June 2007, said he was told by Murphy that only a few raptor fragments were found on the land the Hammonds leased from Bruckner, and that the more complete raptor fossil was discovered near Saco and was entirely owned by the Judith River Foundation. The foundation owned the Judith River Dinosaur Field Station in Malta, where Murphy was the director of paleontology.

Bakker said Saturday that he was upset that Murphy continued to portray the incident as a misunderstanding. He said the discovery of the raptor on the Bruckner property was thoroughly documented with photographs, field notes and Global Positioning System data, and that there is no question that only one raptor was found.

"In this case, the ethical violation was clear-cut," Bakker said. "The documentation of the digging of the raptor was very complete."

Regardless of whether Murphy intended to profit from claiming ownership of the raptor fossil, Bakker said, he committed "one of the mortal sins of museum work" by "falsifying locality data."

"That will get you fired anywhere," Bakker said.

It is important to establish location not only in regard to ownership and compensation, Bakker said. From a scientific standpoint, much of the value of a specimen is lost if scientists don't know where it was found. That has become even more important in recent years with the increasing emphasis on ecological paleontology, he added.

Murphy, reached Monday in Billings, where he owns a cleaning-supplies distributorship, disputed Bakker's statements and said he couldn't say much to defend himself because of the pending criminal case. The charges arose from an investigation conducted jointly by the FBI, the Bureau of Land Management and the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation.

"I feel like I'm overwhelmed on this," Murphy said. "There are a lot of outside circumstances that aren't being reported. I haven't been able to tell my side of the story. When everything is put out there - it's about money and prestige......"

I encourage you to keep reading. The story gets a bit more strange.......................


Anonymous said...

And the plot thickens. Falsifying data sounds like quite a red flag, but it seems like Nate didn't want to loose his raptor. Understandable, I guess, when you've made a discovery like that. The thing as a whole, with allegations going all over the place, is a mess. But then again, what do I know? Understanding legal issues and ethics hasn't been my strong suit.

Anonymous said...

Finally someone caught on to Nate. He intersepted some documents a while back that were to be donated to the Phillips County Museum, Kid Curry section. He told that person he was the curator. Not true. The museum had not received the documents when I was there doing research. Wonder where those documents.