MANHATTAN (CN) – Seizing their third skull of the Tyrannosaurus bataar on Wednesday, New York’s federal prosecutors are steadily repopulating Mongolia of its looted paleantological treasures.
The office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has become quite familiar with Tyrannosaurus bataar, a species also known as a tarbosaurus that roamed the Gobi Desert during the cretaceous period around 65 million years ago.
Before today, Bharara’s office returned at least three full skeletons of the creature to the Mongolian government. One of the skeletons had been sold at the Dallas-based Heritage Auctions for $1.05 million in May 2000.
Mongolian law has considered the fossils to be government property since an expedition discovered the species in the Nemegt Basin in 1946.
An anonymous buyer scooped up the skull forfeited today at an auction by the California-based I.M. Chait Gallery for roughly $276,000 on March 25, 2007, according to the forfeiture complaint.
The sale had represented the third-highest amount paid for a prehistoric specimen at auction, the Associated Press reported at the time.
Prosecutors say that its current owner agreed to give it up upon being informed of its provenance.
In addition to the Bataar skull and skeletons, Bharara’s office boasted of its repatriation of full and partial saurolophus, oviraptor, gallimimus, ankylosaurus, and protoceratops skeletons.
“We are gratified to add the skull of another Tyrannosaurus bataar to the roster of fossils returned to Mongolia,” Bharara said in a statement. “Each of these fossils represents a culturally and scientifically important artifact looted from its rightful owner. Together with our law enforcement partners, we will continue to pursue opportunities to right the wrongs committed when priceless artifacts are stolen.”
Prosecutors also have returned “a composite nest containing miscellaneous dinosaur eggs, and numerous small, unidentified prehistoric lizards and turtles.”
The I.M. Chait gallery did not immediately respond to a telephone request for comment.
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