Nicolas Cage Agrees to Return Tarbosaurus bataar Dinosaur Skull to Mongolia

The film actor and producer Nicolas Cage, he of films such as “Lord of War” and “Con Air” has agreed to return a rare dinosaur skull back to the Mongolian Government.  The Oscar-winning actor purchased the skull back in 2007, unaware that the specimen he had bought was stolen.  The Upper Cretaceous cranial material is from an Asian tyrannosaur, Tarbosaurus bataar, a close relative of the famous North American dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex.

Nicholas Cage Dinosaur Fan

At the time of the purchase, it was reported that Mr Cage had out-bid fellow Hollywood “A-lister” Leonardo DiCaprio for the mounted skull fossil.

A Mounted Tarbosaurus bataar Fossil Skeleton

Mounted Tarbosaurus Specimen.

Mounted Tarbosaurus Specimen.

Picture credit: Heritage Auctions

Mr Cage purchased the skull for $276,000 USD (£185,000 GBP) from a Beverley Hills gallery (I. M. Chait), he was subsequently issued with a certificate of authenticity by the gallery.  U.S. Customs officials have not accused the actor or the gallery of any wrong doing.

Contacted by the Department of Homeland Security

A publicist for Mr Cage, Alex Schack commented that the actor had been contacted last year by officials from the Department of Homeland Security and informed that the skull was most likely illegally smuggled out of Mongolia.  The removal of artefacts and other items of “cultural significance” has been outlawed in Mongolia for decades, in fact, we at Everything Dinosaur believe that this law was in place before T. bataar was officially named and described (1955).

The office of Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney in Manhattan, filed a civil forfeiture complaint last week to take formal possession of the tyrannosaur skull material.  Preet Bharara had acted in 2012 as the prosecutor in the case involving Florida resident Eric Prokopi, who was found guilty over the falsifying of import documents related to a Tarbosaurus fossil skeleton that he had arranged to ship into the United States.  Mr Prokopi was imprisoned for his actions but as part of his guilty plea he helped U.S. Customs recover a further seventeen dinosaur fossils that had been smuggled out of Mongolia.

The Tarbosaurus Fossil Auction

To read the original article on the auction of a Tarbosaurus dinosaur fossil: Tyrannosaurid Fossil Goes Up for Auction.

At the time this first article was posted (May 2012), Everything Dinosaur along with other vertebrate palaeontologists and dinosaur fans supported a petition to stop the auction taking place.

To read an article about the seizure of the Tarbosaurus specimen (June 2012): Seizing a Tyrannosaur!

The outcome of the case against Mr Eric Prokopi (December 2012): Florida Man Pleads Guilty in Dinosaur Smuggling Case.

The return of the Tarbosaurus fossil skeleton to Mongolia (May 2013): Dinosaur Fossils to be Handed Back to Mongolia.

Tarbosaurus bataar Apex Predator of Late Cretaceous Asia

Alarming Reptile - Mounted Skeleton sold at Auction leads to Legal Dispute

Alarming Reptile – Mounted Skeleton sold at Auction led to a legal dispute.

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

PNSO include a replica of a Tarbosaurus in their dinosaur model range: PNSO Dinosaur Models.

Dinosaur Skeletons in Auctions

It is unclear whether Mr Cage or his associates had any dealings with Mr Prokopi.  The I. M. Chait gallery has previously purchased and sold an illegally smuggled hadrosaurid dinosaur skeleton which had been procured from Mr Prokopi.

U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara had described Eric Prokopi as a “one-man black market in prehistoric fossils”, but we at Everything Dinosaur suspect things are very different.  Sadly, the practice of smuggling fossils and other rare and precious objects out of Asian, South American and African countries is relatively common place.   A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“Whilst we are delighted to hear that dinosaur fossils are being returned to their country of origin, so long as there are people prepared to pay vast sums for fossils, so the smuggling racket will continue.  There will always be a black market in fossils and it’s not just the “headliners” like dinosaur skulls that concern us, we shudder to think how many Christmas fossil gifts purchased on line in all innocence have their origins in the murky world of falsifying documents, fossil smuggling and the black market.”

Tarbosaurus bataar Compared to Tyrannosaurus rex

The table published below provides a comparison between these Late Cretaceous tyrannosaurids:

Tarbosaurus bataar Compared to Tyrannosaurus rex

A tale of the tape for two tyrannosaurids.

A tale of the tape for two tyrannosaurids.

Table credit: Everything Dinosaur

Well Mr Cage, here’s one “National Treasure” heading home to its rightful owners.