MANHATTAN (CN) – A Tyrannosaurus Bataar looted from the Gobi Desert will be returned to Mongolia after President Tsakhia Elbegdorj sued to stop it from being sold at auction, and the United States stepped in on Mongolia’s side.
The Tyrannosaurus Bataar, also known as a Tarbosaurus, lived around 70 million years ago, in the Cretaceous period. The species was discovered in 1946 by a joint Soviet-Mongolian mission in the Gobi Desert. In 2010 a nearly complete skeleton made its way into the United States by way of Great Britain, the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Importation documents falsely stated that the skeleton was found in Great Britain, though the species has been found only in Mongolia.
The Customs documents also lied about the value of the skeleton, prosecutors said: “The Customs importation forms listed its value as $15,000, in contrast to the $950,000 – $1,500,000 price listed in a 2012 auction catalog, and the actual auction sale price of $1,052,500.”
President Elbegdorj sued Heritage Auctions, of Texas, in May, which had listed the skeleton for sale. Elbegdorj said the bones were property of Mongolia, under its 1942 antiquities law.
A Texas state judge granted a restraining order, Heritage auctioned off the bones anyway, for $1.1 million, but did not transfer the skeleton, pending resolution of Elbegdorj’s lawsuit.
The Justice Department on Monday filed a forfeiture complaint against the auction house so the fossils could be returned to Mongolia.
Paleontologists examined the skeleton this month and determined that it was dug up in Mongolia some time between 1995 and 2005, the Justice Department said in its complaint.
President Elbegdorj said in a statement Monday: “I thank and applaud the United
States Attorney’s Office in this action to recover the Tyrannosaurus Bataar, an important piece of the cultural heritage of the Mongolian people. Cultural looting and profiteering cannot be tolerated anywhere and this cooperation between our governments is a large step forward to stopping it.”
The Gobi Desert is one of the richest troves of dinosaur fossils on earth. Now an arid plateau 3,000 to 5,000 feet high, a cold desert, it continues to be pushed up by the Indian subcontinent, which is creeping northward about 1 inch per year. The continental movement formed the Himalayas, which separate India from Mongolia, which was a lowland, wetter area when the dinosaurs lived there.