Image courtesy Jordi Payà on Flickr
A Mongolian palaeontologist living in New York heard about the planned auction, and contacted government officials in Mongolia to warn them of the potentially illegal sale. Both China and Mongolia have strict fossil export laws, and Mongolian heritage laws state that fossils from Mongolia must reside in Mongolia. The Mongolian Government petitioned the United States government to hand back the fossil (leading to the coolest action name ever: The United States of America v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton PDF 2.7 MB). However, this was not enough to stop the auction going ahead. In May 2012 the T. bataar sold for just over 1 million dollars to Coleman Burke, a Manhattan real-estate developer and lawyer. However, due to the ongoing saga with proving the fossils provenance, and whether it was illegally auctioned, Burke withdrew his bid.
Further petitions by concerned Mongolians, palaeontologists, and anyone with an interest in stopping the illegal fossil trade, along with the official action lead by the United States government, led to the arrest of Prokopi in October 2012, and a guilty plea in December that same year. His sentencing hearing will be held in April 2013.
So now the long awaited moment has arrived: on February 13 this year, it was announced that T. bataar was free to be shipped back to Mongolia. Although there isn't an official home for the fossil yet, the Mongolian Government hopes to refurbish an old museum dedicated to Soviet dictator Vladimir Lenin into a new dinosaur museum.
Image courtesy Аркадий Зарубин on Wikimedia Commons
“One thing I was wondering is if any of these paleontologists you’ve talked to have given their argument of why paleontology is important.” Fossils are “just basically rocks,” he said. “It’s not like antiquities, where it’s somebody’s heritage and culture and all that.”
- It IS someone's culture and heritage - the T. BATAAR'S!
- It's also ALL OF NATURAL HISTORY'S culture and heritage, and therefore it's OUR culture and heritage!
- Fossils form a record of all life on Earth, THEY are the antiquities!
I found this quote especially worrying from someone who collects and sells fossils for a living, and who also recognises the importance of human heritage. Especially from someone who, according to the New Yorker piece, plans to continue selling fossils after the T. bataar issue is settled (and presumably after he's served jail time). He clearly needs to be educated in why palaeontology is important.