(Fort Washakie, Wyo.) – An Assistant Professor of Paleobiology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) has formally apologized to the Tribes of the Wind River Indian Reservation for a Phytosaur fossil(s) she and her team found, excavated and removed from the Bull Lake area without permission Additionally, Dr. Michelle R. Stocker, Ph.D., said the fossil remains would be returned to the reservation.
The professor and the university were allegedly contacted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Cultural Resources and Wind River Fish and Game Department investigators after the discovery was announced in a Facebook post in July. The BIA sought return of the fossil in lieu of filing criminal charges. As a result, Stocker did write a letter of apology to the Wind River Intertribal Council and pledged to return the fossils.
After learning of the incident in August, County10.com contacted Virginia Tech Office of University Relations for comment on the unauthorized taking of the fossil. A call was never returned.
In her letter, Dr. Stocker said she had obtained a tribal trespass permit and had removed the fossil “under the impression that that the trespass permit allowed me to do so.” When she was informed otherwise, she agreed to return the fossil(s) and send the letter of apology.
The removal of the fossil was posted on Facebook, a screen shot of the post is below:
In her letter, Dr. Stocker indicated the Reservation lands were rich with fossils. “I encourage you to please consider future collaborative research efforts on the fossils as well as collaborative development of educational and outreach tools for students and citizens.” She also offered her services to assist the Reservation in how best to preserve the fossils.