(Reuters) - Prosecutors in Utah charged five people on Thursday with stealing dinosaur bones weighing at least 60 pounds during a field trip arranged by their Texas community college last year, according to local news reports.
The bones, worth an estimated $2,500, are about 145-150 million years old and were illegally removed from a Jurassic period fossil trove at the Hanksville-Burpee Quarry in Wayne County, the Salt Lake Tribune said.
Four former students and a former employee at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, were charged with theft and trespassing for peeling off from a sanctioned field trip at the quarry and hoarding the ancient fossils, the Tribune said.
The accused also damaged the bones and the stone at the quarry, according to the charges cited by the Tribune.
The federal Bureau of Land Management began investigating the students and college employee last August, about three months after the bones were removed, the Salt Lake Tribune reported, central Texas broadcaster KXXV reported.
Because the quarry was on state trust lands, charges were brought by Utah prosecutors.
McLennan Community College president Johnette McKown told the newspaper the five accused of the theft did it without the knowledge of other people on the field trip.
“They made their own choices, which were in contradiction to the instruction they received,” McKown said. “They hid what they did from our professor. She is hugely disappointed,” he added.
It was unclear how the five intended to plead and whether they had obtained attorneys.
The Hanksville-Burpee Quarry, discovered in the past decade, is home to scores of dinosaur bones, including sauropods, or long-necked dinosaurs, at least one carnivorous dinosaur, and a possible herbivorous Stegosaurus, according to its website.
Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore