U.S. Government Steps In to Seize Tyrannosaur Fossil in New York
As reported by Everything Dinosaur in previous blog posts, U.S. customs officials have seized the Tarbosaurus fossil that had been controversially sold at auction last month. Yesterday, representatives of the U.S. government seized the fossils of the tyrannosaur, removing the crates in which they were stored to a secret location. This is probably the first step in what will be a fairly drawn out process that will end with the fossil material being returned to Mongolia, where the fossils originated from.
Palaeontologists having examined the Tarbosaurus bataar fossils have declared that the specimen was probably collected illegally between the years 1995 and 2005 and then smuggled out of Mongolia. The eight-metre-long, mounted specimen was sold at auction last month for a sum over one million USD.
The seizure was ordered by a federal judge in Manhattan earlier this week, and on Friday wooden crates holding pieces of the fossil were loaded onto a truck at a Queens storage centre and driven away to an undisclosed location where the remains of this Late Cretaceous predator will be held pending further developments.
In a written statement, the President of Mongolia, Elbegdorj Tsakhia, who had personally intervened to try to prevent the auction back on May 20th commented:
“We are one step closer to bringing this rare tyrannosaur skeleton back home to the people of Mongolia.”
The fossil had been stored at the Cadogan Tate Fine Art gallery, photographs of the removal by U.S. officials were taken by Houston lawyer, Robert Painter, who had been acting on behalf of the Mongolian government in this case.
In a written statement, those responsible for challenging the original auction sale commented:
“Today we send a message to looters all over the world, we will not turn a blind eye to the market place of looted fossils.”
Bolortsetseg Minjin, Director of the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs, took pictures of the removal of the crates as well, saying:
“It’s a very exciting event. It’s just unbelievable. I never expected it would be this fast.”
Although team members at Everything Dinosaur, signed a petition to prevent the actual auction, the sale itself is not at the centre of this dispute. It has been illegal to remove fossils from Mongolia for more than fifty years and the arguments concerned whether the fossil had been smuggled out of Mongolia. The United States had requested the seizure in a lawsuit, stating that the relics had been brought into the USA with documents that disguised the potentially valuable dinosaur skeleton and misrepresented what was actually being imported.
Eric Prokopi, 37, of Gainesville, Florida, the person responsible for bringing the fossils into the States, defended his handling of the skeleton in a written statement on Thursday, saying that he was not an international smuggler and that he had worked since bringing the bones into the country in March 2010 to turn chunks of rocks and broken bones “into an impressive skeleton”.
Mr Prokopi said in a statement:
“I can wholeheartedly say the import documents are not fraudulent, a truth I am confident will be brought to light in the coming weeks.”
When asked to explain the discrepancy between the stated value on the import documentation when compared to the auction sale price, Mr Prokopi added:
“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.”
The bones were valued on the importation documents at only $15,000 USD, but the skeleton Prokopi prepared and put together that was sold at the New York auction last month fetched $1.052 million USD. The sale is contingent on the outcome of litigation involving the dinosaur fossil material.
Although the buyer has not been officially disclosed, Painter said he had been informed that a New York based private gallery owner had made the winning bid at the auction.
We at Everything Dinosaur, hope that this situation is soon resolved. With luck, the fossils will be returned to Mongolia where they can be studied by scientists from the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs, alongside other Tarbosaurus material. Once a more formal study has been made, it might be possible to put the fossils of this Late Cretaceous predator on display so that the people of Mongolia can view an example of their very own tyrannosaur.