Culture Ministry Investigates Sale of Atlasaurus Caudal Vertebrae
Moroccan authorities are investigating the sale of a dinosaur’s tail that was sold by the Mexican auction house Morton, to an anonymous buyer for around $97,000 USD ($1.8 million Mexican pesos). The auction, which took place last Tuesday, was held in Mexico City. It helped to raise funds for the reconstruction of schools damaged by earthquakes that occurred in Mexico during the autumn. Any sum over the reserve price was to be donated to the earthquake relief fund.
The Dinosaur Tail (Atlasaurus imelakei) on Display Prior to the Auction
Picture credit: Reuters/Daniel Becerril
The four-metre long specimen, weighs around 180 kilograms and represents a partial tail of a sauropod dinosaur from Morocco called Atlasaurus (A. imelakei). Regarded as a member of the macronarian group of sauropods, Atlasaurus was distantly related to Brachiosaurus and Giraffatitan. It lived in North Africa during the Middle Jurassic (Bathonian faunal stage) and it is known from numerous isolated bones and articulated specimens. Atlasaurus had very long limbs, proportionately longer than most other members of the Sauropoda. Its neck was relatively short compared to later macronarians.
Palaeontologists have speculated that the proportionately longer legs evolved to help this herbivorous dinosaur reach food, that other plant-eating dinosaurs could not obtain. The long legs of Atlasaurus are regarded as an example of an evolutionary adaptation to achieve niche partitioning within North African dinosaurs.
Culture Ministry Becomes Involved in the Mexican Dinosaur Auction
The auction of the fossilised tail bones has come to the attention of the Moroccan Ministry of Culture, which has launched an investigation to find out the origin and provenance of the fossil material. The fossil was sold as part of a specialist auction, managed by the Morton Auction House. A percentage of the sale proceeds being reportedly donated to the Bancomer Foundation to help support reconstruction efforts in those parts of Mexico affected by the recent earthquakes. Media reports suggest that around $21,500 USD ($400,000 Mexican pesos), was to be donated from the sale of the fossil.
The fossil very likely originated from the Azilal region of Morocco. The specimen has been restored, around 70% of the material is actual fossil bone. Steps are being taken to determine how the specimen ended up in the auction. This is not the first time Moroccan authorities have intervened in a case like this. In April 2017, a Late Cretaceous plesiosaur fossil exhibit was removed from a Paris auction after an agreement was reached with the Binoche and Giquello auction company.
Tracing the Tale of a Tail
Several sources have stated that the Atlasaurus tail bones were acquired by the Morton Auction House from the Petra Gallery, which specialises in the sale of fossils and minerals. The acquisition by the Morton Auction House from the Petra Gallery has been confirmed by Morton’s Press and Public Relations representative Kristina Velfu.
Ernesto Durán, the director of the Petra Gallery has stated that the fossil was bought legally in the United States and both a receipt and legal import document are available to prove the purchase as legitimate.
In Mexico, the selling of fossils found within the country is illegal, as they are considered part of the country’s heritage. However, the law in Mexico does not prohibit the sale of fossils found outside its borders. The Atlasaurus specimen very probably originated in Morocco, the authorities are interesting in tracing how the fossil came to be in the United States, where it was excavated from and what documentation (if any), exists with regards to its movement out of the country.
We at Everything Dinosaur, will watch how this story unfolds.