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Smuggled Tyrannosaurus Skeleton at Auction
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Smuggled Tyrannosaurus Skeleton at Auction

Described as “a superb Tyrannosaurus skeleton” that “ruled the food chain of the ancient food plains that are today’s Gobi Desert,” an Asian dinosaur skeleton recently sold for over $1 million at Heritage Actions last May. Now, The New York Times reports that the man who shipped the skeleton into the United States has admitted that it was illicitly smuggled from the Gobi, a desert region in Asia.

The Tyrannosaur skeleton was first called into question after American Museum of Natural History paleontologist Mark A. Norell saw the listing in a Heritage catalogue and penned an open letter questioning its origin. Norrell wrote, “these specimens were undoubtedly looted from Mongolia.” Shortly thereafter, the president of Mongolia obtained a court order that prohibited the skeleton, which had already been sold, from being transferred to the buyer.

The United States District Attorney followed suit by filing a civil complaint to have the skeleton seized and returned to Mongolia. Soon after, Eric Prokopi plead guilty to “conspiring to violate federal law by smuggling the fossil of a flying dinosaur from China to the United States.” According to magistrate judge Ronald L. Ellis, Prokopi faces up to 17 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced in April.

Prokopi is considered to be a “commercial paleontologist,” meaning that he obtains fossils from around the world and then disposes of them via museums or auction houses. According to his Web site, everything-earth.com, “That’s right, we sell dinosaurs!”

4 Comments

  • Dear Kimberly

    Nice to see you working so early ! Great 2013 for you .

    Yes ! Mongolia has a past of irregular trade . On Ebay we can see tens of sellers from Mongolia selling old manuscripts and all sorts of old items.

    Maybe, this REX will be safer in USA than in Mongolia , with due respect to Mongolia as a country !

    regards, Christiano

  • I represented Prokopi in his civil action. T-Rex Bataars have been openly available for sale for the past 20 years or so. It was wrong for the government to base Prokopi’s prosecution on unclear foreign laws, not available in translation to US citizens, that are not even enforced at home. If there be regulation of dinosaur sales, it should have been done prospectively through regulation rather than retroactively through a criminal prosecution. Prokopi certainly plead guilty, but this is the odd case where there was an agreement about the facts but a disagreement as to their legal significance. And its hard to fight the government when they have seized all your assets.

  • Yes, that does sound unfair…

  • The New Yorker has a lengthy article on this episode this week. His guilt does not sound particularly ambiguous, nor does his understanding of the law. That said, it does seem clear that if it were a smaller find, everyone would have looked the other way. In a way he was a victim of his own success.

    Illegally exported Mongolian fossils were an open secret. Not anymore!

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/01/28/130128fa_fact_williams?currentPage=all

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