June 24, 2012
Illegally Imported Dinosaur Bones Seized By US Government
A rare, million-dollar dinosaur skeleton, which had been brought into the country illegally and sold last month at an auction, was seized by the US government Friday in what is being calling an important step towards returning the fossil to its native Mongolia, the Associated Press (AP) reported on Friday.
AP Writer Larry Neumeister said that the Tyrannosaurus bataar (or Tarbosaurus) fossil was packed into wooden crates and loaded onto a white truck at a storage center in Queens, New York, before being transported to an undisclosed location. The seizure had been ordered earlier this week by a Manhattan judge.
"We are one step closer to bringing this rare Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton back home to the people of Mongolia," Mongolia President Elbegdorj Tsakhia said in a statement released through his lawyer, Robert Painter of Houston, Texas, according to Neumeister. "Today we send a message to looters all over the world: We will not turn a blind eye to the marketplace of looted fossils."
According to Thursday reports from the Telegraph, Department of Homeland Security spokesman Luis Martinez said that the remains would be taken to a government warehouse, where they would be protected. The name and address of that facility would not be revealed due to the fact that the government stores "other priceless antiquities at this location," he told the British newspaper.
As reported earlier by redOrbit.com's own Lawrence LeBlond, the Tarbosaurus had been illegally brought into the US from Mongolia, then sold to an anonymous bidder last month during an auction. Following the auction, a restraining order preventing the dinosaur's sale was filed by Mongolian officials who said that it had been wrongly taken from the Gobi Desert more than 10 years ago by looters.
Under a 1942 Mongolian antiquities law, all dinosaur fossils are considered property of the Mongolian government and are deemed “one-of-a-kind rare items” prohibited from being moved abroad.
Expert paleontologists from Canada had examined the 8-foot tall, 24-foot-long skeleton and determined that it did in fact come from the Gobi Desert sometime between 1995 and 2005.
Those researchers declared that skeletons of this 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.”
They also argued that “the quality, color and fresh breaks on the bone indicate that the specimen was probably collected within the last ten years," according to LeBlond.
Neumeister reported that the fossils had been brought into the country by a 37-year-old Florida paleontologist named Eric Prokopi, who used documents claiming they were reptile bones originating from Great Britain. In a statement defending his handling of the skeleton, arguing that he had been working since March 2010 to bring the bones into the country and assemble them into the skeleton he has come to refer to as "Ty."
"I can wholeheartedly say the import documents are not fraudulent, a truth I am confident will be brought to light in the coming weeks," Prokopi told the AP on Friday. "The value was declared much lower than the auction value because, quite simply, it was loose, mostly broken bones and rocks with embedded bones. It was not what you see today, a virtually complete, mounted skeleton."