An 8-year-old girl accidentially finds dinosaur bones, and science museums fret about who gets to keep them

May 13, 2009

Dad has a bone to pick with museum over fossils
By Patrick McGee
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Thursday, October 16, 2003

An official with the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History did not investigate an Arlington fossil discovery. Now dinosaur bones seen as a significant find are at the Dallas Museum of Natural History.

ARLINGTON — This is the story of the dinosaur that got away.

Two fossil hunters made news last week as discoverers of dinosaur bones that are now in the Dallas Museum of Natural History.

But an 8-year-old girl appears to have discovered old bones at the same site earlier this year. Her father, Art Sahlstein brought the bones to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. The museum did not act because Curator Jim Diffily said the bones he was given were ancient crocodile bones, not significant enough to prompt a site visit.

Sahlstein, 47, of Euless, said he gave Diffily a bag of bones and invited him to the site, but he never came.

“It just kind of burns me up that the Fort Worth Science and History Museum didn’t do anything with it. And Dallas gets the bones,” Sahlstein said.

The bones in the Dallas museum belonged to the hadrosaur, a duck-billed, plant-eating dinosaur about the size of a sport utility vehicle.

Scientists consider the hadrosaur teeth and vertebrae found in Arlington important because they are 95 million to 110 million years old — the oldest hadrosaur bones found in North America.

Diffily, the curator of collections at the museum, said he regrets not going to the site, but he said crocodile bones are common in Texas and not enough to prompt an immediate site visit.

Diffily said he tried to persuade paleontologists from Southern Methodist University to visit the site, but he had trouble finding a time for everyone to meet.

He said he gets six to eight calls a week from people who say they have fossilized bones.

“Ninety-nine out of a hundred turn out not to be,” Diffily said. “There are many things out there that look very much like bones.”

But Olivia Sahlstein said she was pretty sure she had dinosaur bones.

“I picked one up, and I said, ‘Dad, is this a dinosaur bone?’ and he goes, ‘Yes,’ ” she said.

Art Sahlstein said he was taking his daughter and her friend on a nature walk when they came across the bones. He said they found an old bag and took a bunch of them home.

Sahlstein showed dozens of bones to a reporter and said he has up to 100 pounds of them at his house.

The site’s location is being kept secret to prevent looters from carrying off important fossils before archaeologists can extract them.

Bill Walker, 39, a Bedford police crime scene technician and one of the two fossil hunters who found some of the hadrosaur bones in July, said he never saw anyone else at the site.

But he said he’s not disappointed that someone might have found the famous dinosaur bones first.

“It’s exciting because it means there’s more material out there,” Walker said. “If they’ve got more that could just add to the find.”

Art Sahlstein said that he knows of another site with dinosaur bones but that he’s going to keep it a secret because he’s disappointed that Diffily didn’t act on his tip and that his daughter did not get credit for finding the bones.

“I’m never telling anyone else about it,” he said. “Never.”