Argentinian Governor Confiscates Unique Harvard Fossil Discovery
Alfred S. Romer, professor of Zoology, emeritus, may ask the State Department to help him regain two tons of valuable fossils that are according to Romer, being held illegally in Argentina.
The fossils were seized last year by officials of the Argentinian province La Rioja from an expedition which Romer headed. They are valuable, Romer said, because they are all "new animals"--genera and species not know before. They are fossils of small reptiles from the Early Triasic Period, 200-250 million years ago.
The national government of Argentina had officially sanctioned Romer's expedition, jointly sponsored by Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology and the Natural History Museum of the University of La Planta, Argentina. Romer received permission to bring back to Harvard most of the fossils discovered.
Although all fossil collecting is under control of the Argentinian government, the provincial governor of La Rioja defied the law and issued a personal decree forbidding the removal of any fossils from La Rioja. He was responding to a "they're robbing the province of its natural heritage" campaign which began when the value of the expedition's find became known.
Local police confiscated seven of eight boxes of bones. The eight box had been shipped away just in time and its contents are still being studied at the MCX.
Romer said that several Argentinian papers subsequently criticized the governor's action, "a national scandal." The governor remained adamant until two months ago when he agreed to release the fossils for five years' study. However, the fossils are still in La Rioja. Romer said he expects to get them eventually.
The expedition was financed by a National Science Foundation grant. The fossil hunters. Arnold D. Lewis, head preparator at the MCZ, James A. Jensen, former MCZ preparator, Rosendo Pascual of the University of La Plata, and Romer and his wife worked from November, 1964 to February, 1965.
Romer said the expedition provided "the most remarkably fine collecting I've ever seen."