Home Owners Association sues museum over fossil dig

Museum crew encasing whale vertebrae in plaster

The discovery of 10 million-year-old whale bones poking out of an eroding cliff face in Calvert County seemed a windfall for science.

That’s certainly how Shmuel Rotenstreich saw it when the bones appeared almost two years ago below the cliff-top home he shares with his wife, Debora Linzer, in Chesapeake Ranch Estates.

So when someone from the Calvert Marine Museum asked if he’d object if the museum’s paleontologists excavated the skeleton, Rotenstreich, 63, a computer scientist at George Washington University, did not hesitate.

“He’s a scientist. I’m a scientist, too,” Rotenstreich said. “So I said, ‘Obviously not.’ ”

And with that blessing, five months of digging at the site began.

In a sane world, that might be that. But, there is a home owner’s association and they have lawyers with apparently nothing to keep them busy.

Unfortunately for all concerned, it now appears that his property included neither the cliff face nor the fossil skeleton. Which is why Rotenstreich and the museum in Solomons have been hauled into court.

The local community association, which claims it owns both the cliff and the fossils, is seeking monetary damages and a court order to keep the museum off its property unless the museum gets prior permission. A non-jury civil trial is scheduled to begin in Calvert County Circuit Court.

Paleontology, anthropology and related are practically neighborhood hobbies where I live. Anything you dig up is often subject to archaeological law – and we all understand that.

In general, we try to get along. We deal with a few extra months at the beginning of any construction project to peer and poke; but, museums, tribal historians, community needs govern most decisions.

RTFA. Be reminded why we try to keep the lawyers out.

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