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!”