Court rules fossils belong to landowners

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs." --San Antonio Express-News

The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that any fossils found on private land belong to exclusively to the landowners, and that no rights accrue to any owners of the land’s mineral rights.

The Montana Supreme Court this week ruled that fossils are not legally the same as minerals such as gold or copper. Therefore, Montana fossils, including a dramatic specimen of two dinosaurs buried together, belong to people who own the land where they are found, rather than to the owners of the minerals underneath that land.

The 4-3 decision upholds the way U.S. scientists have long approached questions of fossil ownership. It appears to defuse a potentially explosive 2018 ruling by the federal 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that fossils went to the owners of mineral rights.

The outcome is a win for scientists who had warned that tying fossils to mineral rights could make it harder to get permission to excavate and could throw into doubt who owns fossils already on display, says David Polly, an Indiana University paleontologist and past president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Because the earlier 2018 federal court decision was later appealed and the court then referred the case to Montana’s Supreme Court, this decision settles the dispute nationally as well.

That absurd 2018 9th Court of Appeals decision illustrates how insane that specific federal court had become, packed with many radical leftist and partisan Democratic judges. In the past three years however the balance of that court has been significantly changed, so expect fewer such crazy rulings.


My July fund-raiser for Behind the Black is now over. The support from my readers was unprecedented, making this July campaign the best ever, twice over. What a marvelous way to celebrate the website's tenth anniversary!

Thank you! The number of donations in July, and continuing now at the beginning of August, is too many for me to thank you all personally. Please forgive me by accepting my thank you here, in public, on the website.

If you did not donate or subscribe in July and still wish to, note that the tip jar remains available year round.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652


  • Andi

    The linked article states in part:

    “The state court’s decision doesn’t apply to other states, but Polly predicted it would carry legal weight if the issue comes up again.”

    Does that settle the dispute nationally? Would this case really carry enough legal weight in other states?

  • pzatchok

    In most cases on property rights the land owner, when they did not own mineral rights, was allowed ownership of anything inside the top 20 feet of the land. States differed in the depth.
    Basically anything he found laying on the top and anything he could possibly find while digging a reasonable footing or basement for a building was his.

    Considering 99.99999% of all fossils are found inside that area their normally was not a question of who owned it. But since people have started paying millions for them of course some lawyer would make the court theft attempt.

  • Phill O

    Canada, very quietly, took those rights from people and declared all fossils belong to the state! A liberal government did this.

    Enjoy your freedoms while they last!

  • TL

    Andi – It won’t settle the issue at the national level, but it likely would carry enough weight that if sued, the landowner would prevail in court eventually. The key word there being eventually. Since the precedent is a Montana ruling it is possible that a suit in another state’s court might be allowed to go forward to trial instead of being dismissed. If the mineral rights holder has deep enough pockets they could push on towards trial with the expectation that the landowner would rather settle than deal with the large legal bill. Sometimes the penalty is the process.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *