Stolen Dinosaur Skull Can Go Back to Mongolia says U.S. Court

Mongolian Dinosaur
Federal officials in New York say they’ve seized an illegal Alioramus fossil from France that was going to be sold for $250,000.

On 4 December 2014, NBC News reported that the New York Attorneys’ Office said that the remains of a 70-million-year-old dinosaur that was falsely labeled as a replica and smuggled into New York City earlier in the year. The skull and vertebrae was of an Alioramus, a relative of the Tyrannosaurus rex, and these must be forfeited by the French fossil dealers who exported them. The United States Government is taking action to expose and halt the flow of stolen cultural property.

NBC News went on to report that in January 2015, U.S. Customs and Border protection officials seized the dinosaur fossils, sent to New York from France by Geofossiles Inc, which claimed that the skull was a French-made replica, later concedin that the fossils were genuine, originating from Mongolia, and provided forged documents claiming that the remains could legally be exported and attached a contract to sell the skull for $250,000. Under Mongolian law, significant fossil discoveries cannot be permanently exported or sold to non-Mongolians, even if privately owned.

Geofossiles could not immediately be reached for comment and we have not been able to find a subsequent report. Now that the skull and vertebrae have been forfeited, the Mongolian government, which assisted with the forfeiture case along with the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs, can submit a petition for the return of the fossils. See more about this issue here

NBC Staff Writer Erik Ortiz has also commented on concerns over the black market in fossils, sparked by a recent heist of 190 million year old dinosaur footprints. Dinosaur remains, like rhinoceros horns, are becoming a commodity that is becoming valuable enough to be competed for, especially in a financial climate in which cultural institutions find it difficult to pay market prices. The difficulties are manifold. An object sold to a private investor for huge sum of money denies that object and its information to science. It also places those fossils already in collections at risk of theft and could have implications for insuring natural history specimens.

ICOM’s Code of Ethics of Natural History Museums provides one tool for helping address this, providing leverage for museums to address holes in legislation and enforcement. (See more on ethics and fossil hunting here.) However, this is only one tool and many more would be useful.


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