The Tyrannosaurus bataar fossil in question. (Photo : livescience.com)
The United States government is suing the third largest auction house in the world to return a 70-million-year-old tyrannosaurus fossil so that it can give it back to Mongolia.
The fossil was illegally imported into the United States from Great Britain in March 2010. The smugglers misrepresented the fossil to customs officials and brought it into Gainesville, Florida claiming it was worth only $15,000. The fossil was later sold at a New York auction in May for $1.05 million.
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Mongolian law dating back to 1924 claims that fossils are property of the Mongolian government and makes exporting them a criminal activity. The United States government agrees, and has sued Heritage Auctions to return them.
"The skeletal remains of this dinosaur are of tremendous cultural and historic significance to the people of Mongolia, and provide a connection to the country's prehistoric past. When the skeleton was allegedly looted, a piece of the country's natural history was stolen with it, and we look forward to returning it to its rightful place," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
The sale occurred even after Mongolia's president had obtained a temporary restraining order against the sale.
The Tyrannosaurus bataar is a type of tyrannosaurus that roamed Asia 70 million years ago.
The co-founder of Heritage Auctions had this to say: "We auctioned the Tyrannosaurus bataar conditionally, subject to future court rulings, so this matter is now in the hands of lawyers and politicians."
Three experts examined the fossils in early June and determined that it was indeed a bataar, and that the fossils came from the Nemegt Basin in Mongolia.
Cultural looting and profiteering cannot be tolerated anywhere and this cooperation between our governments is a large step forward to stopping it," said Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj in a statement.