Tarbosaurus Fossil Was Illegally Imported, Sold In United States
June 10, 2012

Tarbosaurus Fossil Was Illegally Imported, Sold In United States

Experts say that a dinosaur fossil which sold for more than a million dollars during an auction last month had been removed from Mongolia illegally before being sold in the United States.

According to LiveScience Senior Writer Wynne Parry, the specimen in question is a 75% complete skeleton of a Tarbosaurus, an Asian tyrannosaur which is related to the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Paleontologists from Canada, Mongolia, and the United States revealed on Wednesday that the fossil, which was sold to an anonymous bidder for approximately $1.1 million at a Manhattan auction on May 20, had been removed from its home country within the past 10 years. That would mean that it was brought into the U.S. illegally.

"Tarbosaurus is only known from Mongolia, and under Mongolian law (and indeed that of a great many countries) it is illegal to excavate or export scientifically significant fossils," archaeology expert David Hone explained in a blog written for the Guardian. "The Mongolians have no record of permits for the collection or removal of this specimen."

The 24-foot-long fossil was sold at an auction run by Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, despite protests by top Mongolian officials and a restraining order prohibiting the sale of the fossil issued by a Texas judge in the eleventh hour, USA Today reporter Dan Vergano said on Friday.

The outcome of the auction is pending court approval, and as part of a revised court order, experts inspected the fossil. Some of the results of that inspection were released Thursday, and reprinted by USA Today.

In their report, the researchers say that skeletons of this particular species "have only ever been recovered from the Nemegt basin and adjacent regions in Mongolia, which in our strong opinion indicates that specimen was collected in Mongolia." Furthermore, they argue that "the quality, color and fresh breaks on the bone indicate that the specimen was probably collected within the last ten years."

In a statement reprinted in part by LiveScience.com, Heritage Auctions Co-Founder and Co-Chairman Jim Halperin said, "It would be premature for us to comment on a paleontological opinion we have neither seen nor had time to study“¦ Heritage will continue to assist the ongoing efforts to achieve a fair and amicable resolution."

Conversely, Puntsag Tsagaan, senior adviser to Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia, told Parry that there was "no doubt" that the fossil would be returned to their country, and that doing so would send a clear message to those who "illegally excavate fossils and sell them on the black market."