The 70-million-year-old skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus bataar, a smaller Asian cousin of Tyrannosaurus rex, has been found to be in the U.S. illegally and is being sent home, according to Time magazine’s News Feed blog. The T. bataar was purchased at auction by Dallas-based Heritage Auctions in May for $1.05 million, but now is in legal limbo thanks to the revelation that key details about the skeleton’s provenance and legal status had been falsified.
Time reported that a staff paleontologist at the New York Museum of Natural History spotted the fraud when he saw an entry about the T. bataar skeleton in an auction catalog. The skeleton was found in the Gobi Desert in the 1940s and is remarkably well preserved, still possessing 80 percent of its original claws and 75 percent of its original teeth. Moreover, the bones all belonged to one animal, whereas even some of the most famous dinosaur skeletons in the world, like the T. Rex at New York’s Museum of Natural History are made from the bones of multiple animals.
Suspicious at that the sale of such a high-quality specimen, the paleontologist contacted the office of Manhattan U.S. attorney Preet Bharara. Bharara ordered that the skeleton be returned to the Mongolian government, which considers all dinosaur fossils found in that country to be the property of its government.
Documents accompanying the skeleton into the country claimed that it was a jumble of broken bone parts and fossil specimens valued at around $15,000. Prosecutors charge that the importers lied about every aspect of the dinosaur’s origin, saying that the skeleton was being flown in from Great Britain.
Bharara explained that this was a case he couldn’t ignore. “When [the T. bataar’s] 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,” he said.
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