This month we’re seeing a strange case of patronage, archeology, and the theft of a Tyrannosaurus from the Gobi desert which Mongolia assures the anonymous $1 million dollar bidder this week in New York is not his, but theirs. All the way back in 2005 we find this bag of bones being put together piece by piece by a British collector, before that it was sitting in a Dorset warehouse for two years, before that it was under sand and dust in the Gobi desert for millions of years – now it’s being auctioned off in New York with a winning bid of over $1 million bucks. Why is Mongolia so mad about this? Because the country hasn’t allowed any fossils to be taken out of the country for more than 50 years.
The auction house and the man selling the bones maintain that the skeleton was excavated and moved legally, but several points made this an impossibility. This particular Tyrannosaurus is of the Tarbosaurus bataar genus and the only other nearly complete set of bones from this species has been found inside Mongolia. While “fragmentary” remains have been found in places throughout China, Mongolia is the only realistic place for this construction to have come, so says Dr Mark A Norell, Chairman and Curator, Division of Paleontology at the American Museum of National History (posted on “Love in the Time for Chasmosaurs.) He goes on to note:
“In the current catalogue Lot 49317 (a skull of Saichania) and Lot 49315 (a mounted Tarbosaurus skeleton) clearly were excavated in Mongolia as this is the only locality in the world where these dinosaurs are known. The copy listed in the catalogue, while not mentioning Mongolia specifically (the locality is listed as Central Asia) repeatedly makes reference to the Gobi Desert and to the fact that other specimens of dinosaurs were collected in Mongolia. As someone who is intimately familiar with these faunas, these specimens were undoubtedly looted from Mongolia. There is no legal mechanism (nor has there been for over 50 years) to remove vertebrate fossil material from Mongolia. These specimens are the patrimony of the Mongolian people and should be in a museum in Mongolia. As a professional paleontologist, am appalled that these illegally collected specimens (with no associated documents regarding provenance) are being sold at auction.” – Norell
The idea that this set of bones was excavated and collected in or around 2005-2007 comes from The Daily Mail while the auction house’s description of the rex reads like so: “The dino was discovered within the past decade and has been in storage in England, still in its field jackets, for the last 2-1/2 years.” Mongolia’s President Elbegforj has spoken up against the sale of the skeleton and there will indeed be court proceedings before this is all said and done.
When the actual skeleton came up for sale this week at Heritage Auctions in New York, the auctioneer was required to read a statement: “The sale of this next lot will be contingent on a satisfactory resolution of a court proceeding dealing with this matter.” This thunder lizard isn’t in someone’s home yet!