National Park Service Hunts for Stolen, ‘Irreplaceable’ Capitol Reef Fossils

by Amy Myers

Several years ago, some “irreplaceable” fossils went missing from Capitol Reef National Park. Now, the National Park Service has opened an investigation into how these pieces of history vanished. They’re also looking for any tips from the public.

Back between August 2017 and August 2018, someone had stolen crucial, prehistoric fossils from a Capitol Reef park trackway. Despite the fact that the crime is roughly four years old, officials only recently discovered that the pieces of history were missing. According to the park’s release from earlier this month, this is because the area where the fossils were is fairly remote. Not many visitors even knew about the area. So, there wasn’t much concern about the safety of the elements there, until now.

“Vandalism hurts,” the Park Service said in the release. “Some of the oldest and most extensive reptile tracks in the western United States are found within Capitol Reef National Park. Fossils preserve the record of life on earth and are exceedingly rare.”

The stolen portions of rock contained trace reptile fossils dating from the Triassic period. Trace fossils don’t contain any actual animal remains. Rather, they usually boast tracks or imprints from the creature.

National Park Service Offers Reward for Any Info About Stolen Capitol Reef Fossils

While the park has made some headway in the investigation, they still need help from the public.

“The park has not been made aware that any leads have been identified, as the investigation is being conducted by a separate branch of the National Park Service,” a Capitol Reef National Park spokesperson told CBS News

As a result, officials are even offering a reward of up to $1,000 for “information that leads to the identification and prosecution of those responsible.”

In particular, they encouraged other Capitol Reef visitors to share any insight regarding the stolen fossils.

“Information from other visitors is often very helpful to investigators,” the Park Service said. “If you have information that could help recover the stolen fossils or that could help identify those responsible, the park asks you to please submit a tip.”

“You don’t have to tell us who you are, but please tell us what you know,” the park assured.

Capitol Reef Home to a Variety of Fossils

Even though the stolen fossils are priceless parts of the national park, there are quite a few others in Capitol Reef.

According to the park, “Paleontologists have found quite a few dinosaur fossils at the nearby Hanksville-Burpee Dinosaur Quarry. Marine fossils, such as oyster shells in the Dakota Formation tell of periods when an ancient inland sea covered the region.”

And that’s just the tip of the prehistoric iceberg. Scientists have also found fossils in the Moenkopi Formation and the Navajo Sandstone. All of these findings provide pertinent information about early reptiles and marine animals that roamed the area.