Monday, 18 June 2012

Feds File Lawsuit to get Tyrannosaur Skeleton Sent Back to Mongolia: What About the Other Bits?

I blogged about this case with its obvious parallels with antiquity sales a few weeks back, there has now been an important development: Alan Boyle, 'Feds file lawsuit to get tyrannosaur skeleton sent back to Mongolia', Cosmic Log:
Mongolia has had laws on the books forbidding the export of dinosaur fossils since 1924. The complaint says the nearly complete skeleton was brought into the United States illegally, and thus should be forfeited by the sellers and returned to Mongolia [...] the complaint alleges that "criminal smugglers misrepresented this fossil to customs officials." When the skeleton was imported into the United States from Britain in 2010, the country of origin was listed as Britain — even though, according to the paleontologists, nearly complete tyrannosaur skeletons of this type have been found only in Mongolia. [...] the 8-foot-tall (2.4-meter-tall), 24-foot-long (7.3-meter-long) skeleton was incorrectly listed on customs forms as consisting of assorted fossilized reptiles and skulls.  [...] The complaint names Florida Fossils as the ultimate consignee for the imported goods, and notes that the company was owned at the time of importation by Eric Prokopi. The skeleton was shipped from Florida to Texas, and then on to New York in preparation for the May 20 sale.
Following the link on the Association of Applied Paleontological Sciences (AAPS) webpage shows that what was "Florida Fossils" is now called "Everything Earth": "Our commercial paleontology division finds, trades, and buys fossils from all over the world. We do all the cleaning, preparation, and mounting of our skeletons. You might see some of our projects in museums all over the world, movies, or even in high end auction catalogs including Sotheby’s, Bonhams and Butterfield, IM Chait, and Heritage". "Everything Earth" also trades in "Artifacts from Around the World".

They still have the old name on ebay. The feedback shows that the company has recently sold on ebay a comparatively large number of bone fragments which the sale spiel describes as from the Late Cretaceous age Nemegt Formation in Omnogov Province, Mongolia. That very same formation was reportedly identified by palaeontologists in the US consuted on the case as the most probable source of the skeleton recently sold by Heritage Auctions (e.g., Wynne Parry, 'Auctioned Tyrannosaur Skeleton Possibly Smuggled', LiveScience 23 May 2012).  Did the buyers of these items on eBay get a copy of the required Mongolian export certificate with their purchase? If not, how do they know they are not stolen? Did these items come out of the same batch of matrix as the Heritage-sold dinosaur, or indeed the same specimens used to make up the sold skeleton? If the seller has been flogging off spare bits, what guarantee is there that the million dollar dinosaur is made up of the bones of a single individual?

AAPS Code of Ethics

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