Stop the Tarbosaurus Auction!

The mounted Tarbosaurus skeleton slated to be auctioned tomorrow. Image via Heritage Auctions.

Tomorrow, a tyrannosaur will go up for auction in New York City. It shouldn’t. The Tarbosauruslot 49315 – was illegally collected and smuggled out of Mongolia.

Fossil theft is a major problem. It can happen anywhere, but dinosaur poaching is especially persistent and pernicious in China and Mongolia. Prime specimens are regularly ripped from the rock to be sold to private individuals elsewhere around the world, all against the heritage laws meant to regulate the responsible collection and curation of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. (In 2009, the United States government returned to China a cache of fossils that had been stolen from that country.) As explained to me by paleontologist and Mongolian Academy of Sciences representative Bolortsetseg Minjin, Mongolia only grants permission for fossil collection to reputable scientific establishments. “Anything against that is illegal,” she said. And excavated fossils either remain in Mongolia, or, with the permission of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, may be studied and displayed elsewhere under temporary loans.

There is no doubt the Tarbosaurus in question came from Mongolia. All the major Tarbosaurus specimens we know of have been found there. And, according to the specimen’s official description, “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 had fossil collection regulations a decade ago, just as they do today, and the fact that this undocumented specimen went from the field to a private collection outside Mongolia is a sure sign that the specimen was illegally collected and smuggled elsewhere.

The tyrannosaur – as well as a set of several other Mongolian dinosaur specimens – was scheduled for auction several weeks ago. During the past forty eight hours, Mongolian officials and paleontologists have been rallying to stop the auction. Elbegdorj Tsakhia, president of Mongolia, issued a statement yesterday questioning the details of how the Tarbosaurus was collected. If the dinosaur really was discovered in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert, the statement noted, “President Elbegdorj Tsakhia said that it was illegal to auction the T-Rex and the fossil must be returned to Mongolia.” And American Museum of Natural History paleontologist Mark Norell, who is an expert on Mongolia’s dinosaurs and has frequently excavated fossils there, wrote a letter to Heritage Auctions affirming that the Mongolian dinosaurs slated for auction were almost certainly excavated illegally:

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. [You can see the entire letter at Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs.]

Other paleontologists, volunteers, and concerned parties have been adding their signatures to an online petition to stop the auction, created by paleontologist Neil Kelley. These dinosaurs do not belong in someone’s mansion or at a corporate headquarters. They should be returned to their country of origin. “If we can succeed, the best thing for those specimens is to go back to the country. That’s who they belong to,” Minjin said.

But Heritage Auctions may not budge. When I asked Minjin if the auction house showed any sign of cooperating with the Mongolian government, she said that their response “wasn’t really encouraging.” Now that several statements from Heritage Auctions have been published, I can see what she means.

The president of Heritage Auctions, Greg Rohan, wrote a snippy letter in response to the online petition trying to save the dinosaur for science. “You should all be aware that this auction has been publicicized [sic] broadly for 4 weeks,” Rohan wrote “and the Mongolian Governments request issued today less than 48 hours before the auction is unreasonable and inappropriate.” As if the timing of the protest has anything to do with whether the dinosaurs were obtained illegally or not. And, strangely, Rohan claims that the Tarbosaurus was discovered at a different time than what the auction’s official listing states. While the dinosaur’s description is clear that the tyrannosaur was excavated “within the past decade”, Rohan claimed that “Mongolia won its independence in 1921 and this specimen is obviously quite a bit older than that.” That’s quite a discrepancy, and I have no reason to take Rohan’s word for it. Based on what the official documents state – and the fact that no one even knew that tyrannosaurs existed in the Gobi until Tarbosaurus was described in 1955 – the dinosaur in question was undoubtedly collected during a time when Mongolia’s heritage laws were already in place.

Frustratingly, despite the fact that the Mongolian dinosaurs were illegally acquired and transported, other countries do not necessarily have laws forbidding the import or sale of fossils that have been improperly obtained. The excavation of transport of the Tarbosaurus was illegal, but, now that the dinosaur is here, the dinosaur’s sale might be legal. And Heritage Auctions has not been swayed by the appeals of the Mongolian government and the scientific community. In a statement to Dan Vergano’s Science Fair blog at USA Today, lawyer Carl Soller – who represents Heritage Auctions – said that there appeared to be no legal boundaries to the dinosaur’s auction tomorrow. “Our client has no reason to believe that any laws enforced by the United States have been violated,” Soller said, “and we are unaware that Mongolian law would have prevented export from Mongolia.” The auction is still on.

Whether or not the dinosaur was looted seems irrelevant to Heritage Auctions. They want to keep their centerpiece for tomorrow’s auction – a tyrannosaur they expect to go for about a million dollars. And the company seems unmoved by the implication that such sales only fuel the impression that dinosaurs can rake in massive amounts of cash – a perception that gives more impetus to poachers and thieves who trash field sites for specimens which wind up as status symbols for celebrities.

The Tarbosaurus, Saichania, and other Mongolian dinosaur specimens should be pulled from auction. Rohan’s statement that it is “unreasonable and inappropriate” to protest the auction is a loathsome and limp response. The timing of the objection is irrelevant. These fossils were illegally collected, and auctioning them off only fuels additional criminal activity. To put the dinosaurs on the block tomorrow would be a completely reprehensible action by Heritage Auctions, and I don’t believe that it would be all that difficult to pull the controversial specimens from the schedule.

Fossil poaching is a major threat to paleontology, and robs scientifically-significant specimens from everyone. Speak out against the auction. Sign the petition calling for a stop to the dinosaur auctions, and email Heritage Auctions via Bid@HA.com. These dinosaurs are part of Mongolia’s natural history, and that of our planet. They should be treated as such, and not as home decor for the affluent.

UPDATE (5/19/2012):

I just received the following press release, courtesy of Painter Law Firm PLLC, which states that the auction of the Tarbosaurus specimen will be halted thanks to a temporary restraining order. I have asked for more details on the fate of the other Mongolian dinosaur fossils due to go up for auction tomorrow, and will update this post as I find out more.

Judge Issues Restraining Order Stopping Sale of Possibly-Smuggled Mongolian Dinosaur

The Honorable Carlos Cortez, a Dallas, Texas district court judge, granted a “Temporary Restraining Order” (TRO), after an application by Houston attorney Robert Painter, legal counsel for His Excellency Elbegdorj Tsakhia, President of Mongolia.

The TRO prevents Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, Inc. from selling a rare national treasure that paleontology and dinosaur experts believe may have been illegally removed from Mongolia.

The emergency TRO was issued Saturday morning to stop a New York City auction tomorrow of the dinosaur remains to a private buyer in New York City. At issue is an extremely rare near-complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus bataar, a cousin of the North American T-Rex.

This is not the first time that looters have desecrated excavation sites.  However, this sale is particularly unique.  It is of grave concern to officials in Mongolia that Heritage Auctions, Inc. has declined requests to disclose the owner and provenance, or to answer questions about whether the dinosaur was illegally smuggled out of Mongolia.  Further, it is rare for a near-complete and mounted dinosaur body, at 24-foot long and 8-feet tall, to be sold as a whole unit.

Mongolia is particularly vulnerable to looters taking advantage of the country.  Because of the country’s expansive size, it is very difficult to secure all excavation sites.

When President Elbegdorj learned of this imminent auction, he knew that he had to take action to preserve Mongolia’s history, culture and treasures.

Attorney Painter said, “The temporary restraining order preserves the status quo, while the true ownership of the Tyrannosaurus bataar is legally proven and decided in court. President Elbegdorj was wise to use this legal procedure to protect the interests of the Mongolian people.”

The auction house was served with the TRO on Saturday afternoon. Robert Painter will be in New York City for the auction to ensure that Heritage Auctions, Inc. complies with the TRO terms.

UPDATE (5/20/2012):

Heritage Auctions sold the Tarbosaurus skeleton today. According to the official press release, the dinosaur was sold for over one million dollars. (I do not know what happened to the skull of Saichania, or the other dinosaur fossils for sale.) But the dinosaur isn’t going home with anyone yet. Heritage Auctions says the sale is “conditional” and “will be contingent upon resolution of a court proceeding.” There’s still some hope that the dinosaur may be returned to its proper home in Mongolia.

I also received the following press release from Painter Law Firm PLLC, which provides some additional detail about the “event” referred to in the Heritage Auctions post:

Sale of Tyrannosaurus Fossil in New York Today Delayed By President of Mongolia

New York, NY – Today, the sale of a dinosaur skeleton believed to be a Mongolian national treasure – a 24-foot-long, 8-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus fossil – was put on hold by legal action taken by the President of Mongolia, Elbegdorj Tsakhia.  Houston attorney Robert Painter filed a lawsuit in a Texas district court on behalf of the President enjoining the sale and transfer of the huge fossil until legal ownership and proper provenance is proven in court.  A Texas judge signed a temporary restraining order that ordered Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, Inc. to halt the sale of the fossil that experts believe was smuggled out of Mongolia.

Officials with Heritage Auctions were served with the temporary restraining order (TRO) late Saturday and today in New York, both before and during the auction. A copy of the original petition and TRO can be found at this link: www.painterfirm.com

When this particular lot came up for auction today, the Heritage Auctions, Inc. auctioneer read a statement, “The sale of this next lot will be contingent on a satisfactory resolution of a court proceeding dealing with this matter.”

At that point, attorney Robert Painter got Judge Carlos Cortez, of the 44th District Court of Dallas County, Texas, who signed the TRO, on his cell phone.  Painter stood up at the auction, and stated that the judge was on the telephone and that going forward with the auction, even contingent on the court proceeding, would violate the TRO.

Heritage Auctions, Inc. President Greg Rohan rushed toward Painter, refused to speak with Judge Cortez, asked Painter to leave the room and directed that the auction proceed.

Painter said, “I am very surprised that Heritage Auctions, Inc. knowingly defied a valid court order, particularly with the judge on the phone, listening and ready to explain his order.  It makes me wonder if that Heritage Auctions, Inc. has a similar disregard for the property laws that protect antiquities, like the Tyrannosaurus fossil, that they attempt to auction.”

“I applaud President Elbegdorj for taking swift action to oppose the sale of this important Mongolian national treasure, and to make sure that it is not transferred to anyone until its ownership is verified in court,” said Texas-based Ed Story, Honorary Consul General of Mongolia. “His leadership in protecting the cultural heritage of the Mongolian people was on display again today in New York, thousands of miles away from Mongolia.”

Painter added, “This is a victory not only for the people of Mongolia who are one step closer to proving the true ownership of this important dinosaur, but also for the important friendship between the people of United States and Mongolia.”

According to the Daily Mail newspaper, this 80 million year old fossil was found in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia in 2005. A team of UK and American scientists assembled it. Mongolian law prohibits the transport of such fossils outside the country.

“These specimens are the patrimony of the Mongolian people and should be in a museum in Mongolia,” said Dr. Mark Norell, Chairman and Curator, American Museum of American History, Division of Palentology [sic], who worked in Mongolia for 22 years.

And a Daily Mail article reports that the Tarbosaurus was collected in 2005, contrary to the comments of Heritage Auctions president Greg Rohan. From the news item:

For millions of years it lay hidden in the Gobi desert. Then for another two, the bones sat bagged up in a Dorset warehouse.

Now this spectacular, near-complete Tyrannosaurus skeleton has been painstakingly pieced back together by a British collector – and is set to sell for £750,000 at a New York auction on Saturday.

The 24ft long and 8ft high Tyrannosaurus bataar, a cousin of T-rex which lived around 80million years ago, was found in Mongolia and acquired by the collector in 2005.

He assembled and mounted half of the specimen but because the project proved quite expensive he struck a deal with a fellow enthusiast in America to help fund it.

The half-built dinosaur was shipped across the Atlantic to Florida where it was completed.

I am still waiting for these details to be officially confirmed. If Heritage Auctions has documentation regarding where, when, and how the dinosaur was collected, they should present those documents to the Mongolian government and other parties involved.

 

139 thoughts on “Stop the Tarbosaurus Auction!

  1. Heritage Auctions has legal ownership of the tyrannosaur, according to the laws of the country it is operating in. If the Mongolian government is concerned about these artifacts then they could choose to be the highest bidder for it at auction. Same for those signing these petitions. If they wanted to be constructive then they could pool their money, bid to win the auction than donate the artifact to the Mongolian government.

    There are many people who gladly meddle in concerns of other people’s money as long as their own money can remain on the sidelines. These are not activists, they are loud-mouths. 

    1. Really?  So if you got robbed blind and had your stuff auctioned off in Mongolia, you wouldn’t ask for it back?  You’d gladly pay top dollar to have your own property returned to you?  Sounds like a business opportunity for the Mongolian equivalent of Heritage Auctions!  Quick, where do you live?

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    2. Since when does possession of stolen property constitute “legal ownership”?  Even if they paid for it from a source they thought to be legitimate, if it is indeed stolen property, it should be seized. If stolen cars or jewelry are discovered on used car lots or pawn shops, the cops seize it without compensating the dealer/shop. If I go to an art gallery and buy a painting, which is then discovered to have been stolen during WWII by the Nazis, I will be compelled to return it to the rightful owner, even though I did nothing wrong and paid for it.

      1. The difference is we have agreements with Germany that allow for the return of stolen items. We do not have these agreements with Mongolia and China. Like it or not, Heritage has not violated US laws by possessing or auctioning this fossil and US taxpayer dollars should not be spent enforcing the laws of other countries unless such an agreement exists.

        1. Agreed, from what I can tell, the current legal issues are being dealt with by civil courts, so I think its Heritage and the people of Mongolia who are paying for the lawyers. 

    3. “These fossils were illegally collected”…what part of “illegal” do you not understand. This has nothing to do with loud mouths and everything to do with stopping the sale of illegally obtained property.

      1. What part of “show some reasonable proof” rather than self serving speculation can’t YOU understand?

        1. It’s a T. bataar, therefore it’s been illegally obtained, all T. bataar’s not obtained with the explicit permission of the Mongolian or Chinese government are illegally obtained.
          This is not a difficult issue, the fossil species only occurs in a specific locale. You can’t go to Saudi Arabia, dig a hole, and start putting oil into barrels and selling it without the government’s permission. You can’t walk out to Mt. Rushmore, chip off part of it, and then sell “A piece of Mt. Rushmore”!

        2. This is like saying someone should prove that a piece of moonrock being auctioned is actually a rock from the moon – if you’re calling it moonrock, you’re acknowledging that you’re illegally selling something, as it’s illegal to sell moonrock. If you say you’re selling T. Bataar, found only in Mongolia, guess what that means you’re acknowledging?

          1. It is not illegal to sell a moon rock if it comes from a lunar meteorite, I sell them all the time. The only moonrocks that are illegal are the ones from the Apollo missions. People think moonrocks are illegal because the media mis-interprets them that way to get more attention. You can extrapolate all this to the current debate as you’d like 🙂

          2. Well yeah, but *everything* here come from somewhere else. Tarbosaurs only come from Mongolian rock. they are the equivalent of the Apollo ‘gift’ rocks in this case. It certainly didn’t somehow appear in England out of the sky, meteorite style. Ow, it’s too early, the metaphor is starting to hurt my brain…

      2.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to find some comment you’ve made that is illegal in China, North Korea, Iran, or some other tinpot state.  Should you be sent over for trial?  “What part of *illegal* do YOU not understand???”

        1. Your comment has absolutely nothing to do with my comment or the fact that the fossils were dug up in Mongolia, an illegal practice in Mongolia.
          The more read your comment the dumber I become, use your head idiot.

      1. So all fossils belong to the government and not the people who own the land/ did the work of excavation? This is just like how Spain sued for contents of a sunken Spanish ship from the 1700’s. 
        ‘Stolen’ is a very loose term here.  Mongolia can’t say they were ever owned the the fossil so stolen is not the right word. If Iran said they owed all the oil that came out of the country and demanded that 1 million barrels be returned to them because they were sold illegally, we would laugh in their face. 

        If the Government was actually worried about science, they would allow the excavation of fossils provided they were registered and a mold was made of them for future study. An excavator would be just as interested in keeping a specimen pristine, more fossils would be discovered and the whole argument about selling would be moot. Mongolia just wants a valuable possession for free. 

          1. Your argument presupposes that the excavators had the legal right to conduct an excavation in the first place. If the fossils are indeed from Mongolia, this would not be the case. Example: in the US, I own any fossils on my land.  If someone comes onto my land without my permission, digs up fossils or other relics that (by virtue of being on my land) belong to me, and then tries to sell those fossils, it is an illegal act; I am not under any obligation to reimburse them for the excavation, preparation, etc.  Similarly, excavating fossils in Mongolia without permission does not warrant any reimbursement to the excavators / preparators / etc.

            You might argue that I have no evidence that the fossils were actually collected illegally. True. But in that case, it would behoove Heritage Auctions to demonstrate the legality (if any) of the transaction. Else, their appearance of integrity is badly damaged.

          2.  Better that than let it be excavated by potion-makers who will grind the fossil up and let it be sold as an aphrodisiac.

          3. The ship in question/treasure and all/was not ‘given’ back to Spain.  It was used as a barter chip for something else…. and quite frankly a huge travesty of justice.

        1.  Negative. If the fossil was extracted from Mongolia, where the law says it belong to the government, then it belongs to the government. Mongolia has sovereignty over its territory and the natural properties within it. The Spanish sunken ship is a bad analogy, because that ship was not located within its territory, so their argument was weaker.

    4.  Using Discus head logic, if someone steals my car, ships it to Nigeria they are entitled to sell it and I can buy it back, e.g. pay ransom.  Real intellectual argument doofus.

      1. Your logic is, “Hey, I see a car in Nigeria that looks like mine!  Nigeria has to send it to me!”  Real intellectual argument doofus.

      1. Actually he is not an idiot. It is called the Dragonbone Trade (do a google search) and countless precious fossils have been lost to it.

        1. The government of Mongolia is not in the dragonbone trade.  The point is still moot. Also, since the point seems to be ‘Asians can’t be trusted’ the point is assinine as well.

          1. I hardly think there is anything in my comment that any rational person would think has anything to do with whether Asians can be trusted or not. It simply was an observation that the dragonbone trade does, in fact, exist and that no one should be branded an “idiot” for pointing this out. There is a valid argument to be made that these fossils should be preserved by any means from such an end. The government of Mongolia may not be involved in the dragonbone trade, but certainly there was some complicity on the part of government officials for a complete tarbosaur skeleton, still in field jackets, to be removed from their country. This, however, is a problem for Mongolians to deal with. Heritage violated no US laws by possessing or auctioning this fossil as we have no treaty agreements with Mongolia or China regarding this. You don’t have to like this and I will try not to call you  an idiot or assinine because of your opinions.

    1. The questions of who found it, who sold it, who bought it, and who knew about it will be thoroughly investigated by international law enforcement.  The nation of Mongolia will be the keeper and the criminals behind this criminal act will surely be the weepers.  And no amount of quacking will change that..

      1. What international law enforcement? We don’t have such treaties with Mongolia. This will be settled in civil court. 

  2. I am a bit confused.  Because all  Tarbosaurus fossils thus far have come from Mongolia, this Tarbosaurus of unknown origin, found in storage in Britain, should automatically be the property of Mongolia?  According to Wikipedia Tarbosaurus fragments have also been found in China, then goes on to say:  “Some experts contend that this species is actually an Asian representative of the North American genus genus Tyrannosaurus; if true, this would invalidate the genus Tarbosaurus altogether.”   So if experts can’t even determine the difference between a Tyranosaurus and a Tarbosaurus and don’t know where it came from, why give it to Mongolia?

    1. Reasonable questions.  I think I can show you why this is still shady, though: [Tyrannosaurus] and [Tarbosaurus] are both in the subfamily Tyrannosaurinae — they’re similar enough that there is room for legitimate debate as to whether they should be different genera versus different species in the same genera.  There is no question as to whether it’s a unique taxa — a fossil animal restricted to Central Asia.  You aren’t going to find one in Montana, Chihuahua, Alberta, or anywhere else in North America. The only fossils complete enough to be confidently assigned to [Tarbosaurus] have been from Mongolia.  The Chinese specimens are bits and pieces that MIGHT be from [Tarbosaurus].  Even if we accept the remote possibility that this is a Chinese specimen, the point is moot.  It is no more legal to steal from the Chinese than it is to steal from the Mongolians.  Whether this specimen belongs in Ulan Bator or Beijing, the one place they absolutely do NOT belong is New York. 

  3. you know, by this line of thinking, Indiana Jones is a criminal. He took a lot of artifacts and gave them to a museum for money. Thanks for ruining my idea of one of my childhood heroes. 

    1. Actually, I wouldn’t worry about Indy.  Dr. Jones was way better at punching Nazis than he was at actually collecting artifacts.  The Ark, the Sankara Stones, the Holy Grail, the Crystal Skull — none of the ended up in museums.

    2.  Indiana Jones is a fictitious character, all modern archeologist follow strict guidelines when collecting specimens so they do not break any local laws.

        1. What makes Chapman Andrews’ case interesting is that at that time Mongolia was de facto USSR territory – formally independent, but practically occupied, a situation that lasted until the 1980s. You could therefore argue that because of that, Mongolian law would have to cede to ‘common’ USSR law in those days. But I’m no lawyer – anyone?

  4. China’s laws on fossils are quite similar to Mongolia’s as far as I know. If it had originated there (and no skeletons are known), then it would still likely have been illegally obtained.

    The Wikipedia article does not say that Tarbosaurus cannot be distinguished from Tyrannosaurus rex. It’s a question of whether T. bataar should be called Tyrannosaurus bataar in order to reflect its close relationship to T. rex. T. rex (from North America) is distinct from T. bataar. That is not in dispute.

    Finally, T. rex skeletons all come from North America, where the bone preservation tends to be deep brown, ruddy brown, or black. This skeleton is mottled white, which is typical of fossils from the Gobi. I know of no T. rex skeletons that are actually mottled white, but I’m sure a tyrannosaur worker could correct me here.

  5. I’d be more impressed if this article was less biased. Clearly the author has no capacity to remain objective on this issue. I also suspect he’s less upset by the poaching of the fossil than by the chance it might wind up in the hands of a private collector.

    Sadly, this is typical of reporting at Wired, where the editors routinely allow stories with inaccuracies, snarky language instead of clear writing, agenda-driven hit-pieces, or the author’s personal bias. Or all of the above.

    1. … you’re really complaining about Wired writers/contributors being ‘snarky’? Seriously? Heh. That’s one of the things that makes Wired, well, ‘Wired’– you want less snark, go read one of the more mainstream publications.

    2. Uh, I for one am totally okay with saying that any individual wealthy (and willing) enough to purchase an entire tyrannosaur skeleton for his/her personal enjoyment can go fuck themselves…

  6. My reading of Rohan’s comment that “Mongolia won its independence in 1921 and this specimen is obviously quite a bit older than that,” is that because the Tyrannosaur is Cretaceous in age, that somehow means that stealing it is justified. By the same logic, all mineral, historical, archeological and paleobiological resources worldwide are fare game regardless of local law as long as they predate the the founding of the nation in which they are found. Same goes for say, old-growth Redwoods or Bristlecone Pines. That’s an absurd thing to say and shows that Rohan really does not take this matter seriously.

  7. … Rohan claimed that “Mongolia won its independence in 1921 and this specimen is obviously quite a bit older than that.”…

    Well duh, obviously, the specimen is thousands of years older than when Mongolia won its independence.  It dates to the time before there were lots of people roaming around as a food source for them.  However, it was dug up much more recently than either of these two events [when it was roaming around and when Mongolia won its independence].

    1.  “Well duh, obviously, the specimen is thousands of years older than when Mongolia won its independence.”

      You are several orders of magnitude off, on that, but I dig the Flintstones analogy.

  8. The scientists dont give two rats behinds about Mongolia’s heritage. What they care about is pretending to care so they can suck up to the Mongolian Government and continue to dig there and contniue to publish. The reality is these and practically all other dinosaur bones will be excavated, studied and then locked in a drawer or cabinet never to the light of day. Just as if they were in the hands of a private collector. The only difference being the large of portion of funding for the legal digs will come from publicaly funded sources. Perhaps if they cared half as much about ensuring specimans end up on public display then their selfish views on private collection/trafficing might gain some more traction in the general population.

    1. Yes, a large proportion of the specimens end up in cabinets, or on shelves ‘behind the scences’. They get registration numbers, and they stay there safely until somebody needs to refer to them. We have similar institutions for books, called libraries.

      1. The major difference of course being, most anyone can go into a library and at least look at the books. These guys not only hide these things away from those that ultimately funded at least part of digging them up, even a cursory dip of the toe into the paleontology will highlight many cases were they are guarded from other researchers. So its a bit difficult to really truly believe the outrage against private collectors is truly altruistic. Paleoanthropology is even worse in this respect.

        1. Having been a palaeontology degree student for almost three years, I have to say: you are massively generalising, my friend.  Not all “these guys” hide this stuff from the world.  Far from it, in my experience.  Whenever I have need to take a look at stuff in the London NHM, all I have to do is arrange it with the curators and I’m in.  I can sniff around in the fossil drawers till my heart’s content.  My other half even found a ‘missing’ bit of pterosaur jaw and wrote a paper on it.  Sure, I have come across many stories of folks being protective of what they’re working on: some to the extent of ‘sitting’ on important fossils for years (sometimes decades) and not letting others get a look in until they have time to write it up themselves.  But let me tell you something: this is actually considered bad form by most palaeontologists.  The vast majority (certainly the ones I know) do in fact give a crap.  They want science to get the benefit.  They want the public to get the benefit.  And yes, it is sad to us if a really cool specimen gets sold to a private collector who removes it from the arms of research indefinitely.  But that’s life, and mostly you just have to accept that.  Besides, a lot of us also have good relations with private collectors and fossil dealers, and a fair few of them enhance our knowledge by introducing us to stuff we would never be able to get hold of otherwise.  Like everything in life, there are the good guys and the bad guys.  But there IS a legal issue over ownership here, and *that* is the difference. 

        2. ??  Most museums are happy to arrange tours of the collections — the behind the scenes areas — for those interested;  I’ve done loads of collections tours for school groups at musuems in Ohio and South Dakota.  Most collectors are a little less likely to allow people into their homes.  I’d say Mr. Brazeau’s point still stands. Additionally, there are plenty of private collectors that follow the rules, get along well with academic paleontologists, and remain profitable. Whoever stole the [Tarbosaurus] was not one of these collectors. They were theives.

    2. Sure, and that’s why every person out there who knows anything at all about paleontology is going “That’s messed up and illegal!” because we’re just buttering up the Mongolian Government. Really? The fact that a specimen that was obtained illegally, that really belongs in a museum isn’t why paleontologists are all fired up? Because it’s really soooo much better to let some rich jerk buy it for silly money and fuel the demand for black market fossils?

      1. “The fact that a specimen that was obtained illegally, that really belongs in a museum isn’t why paleontologists are all fired up”. Well thats my point, if even a third of these things ended up on public display you would have a point. Seeing as though practically all modern finds end up in a draw somewhere, well their motivations must lay elsehwere.

        1. Yes, they do end up in drawers (you really think there’s enough space to display every decent fossil ever found publicly?!).  But these drawers are usually in museums, where you can arrange to go take a look.  I’ve been on several ‘behind the scenes’ tours of museums as a member of the public: if you are really interested, then it’s not that difficult.  You seem to be labouring under the assumption that all scientists have some evil agenda.  Some do.  Most don’t.  Your cynicism is misplaced.

        2. Museum displays of vertebrate fossils are a great way to educate the general public, but are not the primary purpose of a museum.  The single most important function of a museum is conservation of the resources (including fossils) under their care.  Period.  All other functions of a museum (at least, a professional and competent museum) are subsidiary to conservation. This determines in large part what can and cannot be displayed, as well as how displays are constructed.  Museum displays are therefore an unusual juxtaposition of potentially competing needs: conservation of the resource(s), long-term stability of the display, security of the fossils, educational potential of the remains, impressiveness, etc.

          Many fossils aren’t really worth public display, and are often fragmentary, poorly preserved, etc.  But those scrappy remains are still often scientifically significant. Other more complete and impressive remains may be more attractive, but not be sufficiently robust to survive long-term on display.  These can nevertheless be accessed by researchers, and additionally are frequently shared with tour groups escorted through collections (as has been noted elsewhere). Conservation is still maintained, but outreach and education are enabled … without expensive mounts.

          But beyond that, the fossils in collections are also very much a scientific dataset, and the information we glean from those fossils DOES get shared with the public, extensively.  Further, since science is an ongoing process of discovery, and since the tools available to scientists (including paleontologists) become more advanced with the passing years, long-term conservation of fossils is essential for both repeatability of previous studies as well as new studies corroborating or advancing other work.  This is research, outreach, and education that cannot be conducted if the fossils are not conserved long-term (or if they end up in private hands, beyond the reach of paleontologists).

          All that is besides the point here, however.  The concern is that Heritage Auctions has knowingly allowed the sale of a fossil that has (at least at present) questionable provenance.  It would behoove them to demonstrate convincingly that the fossils did not originate in Mongolia – if not to the public at large (due to confidentiality), at least to the Mongolian government. Their failure to do so, and the apparent arrogance and ignorance with which they allowed this ethically questionable auction to proceed, is stunning and depressing.

  9. Wow there are a lot of ignorant people commenting here. Whether this specimen came from Mongolia or China is irrelevant. Both countries have laws against exporting fossils without appropriate permits. On the side of the Heritage Auction group, there is nothing more than a statement that insists an anonymous collector has written an assurance that they have the title to the specimen. If someone was accused of stealing a car would you accept the excuse that the current “owner” who is anonymous has a good reputation and has written a letter (which no one has seen) assuring that they have the car legally registered (without showing the registration, of course) would you accept that as reasonable evidence? You’d have to be stupid.

    At the end of the day, you can see that the Heritage Auction group appears fairly aware that this is likely an illegal fossil but they don’t care because the US does not recognize Mongolian law. The US government seriously needs to smarten up and stop encouraging the illegal fossil trade which results in the destruction and disappearance of huge numbers of scientifically valuable specimens annually.

    I also wish the private collectors would get over this ridiculous sense of entitlement. Simply having a pile of money should not mean someone has the right to hoard scientifically priceless artifacts for their own personal enjoyment.

    Shame on the Heritage Auction group and shame on the person who purchases this specimen. What a waste. 

    1. I would also like researchers to stop having a ridiculous sense of entitlement. Yes some pieces are important, but we all know 99% of it ends up in storage where perhaps one researcher every decade may want to look the specimen up. 

      We need some middle ground where the important pieces do go to research while unimportant pieces can be sold to raise money for the land owners, institutions, and governments. If collectors had access to more material from various sites, there would be no need for a black market. 

      1. In the United States, land owners are free to sell any fossils found on their property; same with any mineral, they can sell the mineral rights. They can do whatever they want with the extracts from their property. The restrictions, here, are on federal lands,  and they allow some collecting on that, but commercial fossil dealers can’t steal rare fossils that belong to the public.

        Who is to decide what is an “important” specimen? You? Me??? The pieces are kept in museums, universities, and state collections so ALL future generations have access  to specimens. Even today, important discoveries are made from specimens collected over a hundred years ago.

        re: “ridiculous sense of entitlement”– citation needed.

        addendum: too, some countries consider all mineral/fossil specimens, and antiquities, as property of the state,e,g; China and Mongolia.

        1. I agree and respect US laws the way they are (invert and common collecting on lands depending on the federal and local laws) although it saddens me every time I see a dinosaur weathering away because it’s not important enough to science to be collected but is illegal for anyone else to touch. It’s a sad reality but that’s the way it is. 

          As for who to decide what is “important”, form a new group, a consortium of various scientists and not just those who oppose all vertebrate collection. Grant licenses to commercial dealers who agree to submit all finds to the group for them to Yay or Nay it’s importance. Look at Canada and their licenses to the companies that dig up Canadian Ammolite ammonites, the goverment/scientists go through and pick out the ones they think have importance and let them export the rest for sale. So science gets it’s cut, the government gets paid, and the diggers get to make a living not on the black market. 

          Don’t forget all the fossil sites that are mining leases on federal lands, shale and slate quarries where the fossil has to be destroyed because it’s not allowed to be collected (Correct me if I’m wrong here, I’m referring various quarries in the Weeks formation in Utah, or the sites in Kamloops in Canada where fossils are turned into kitty litter).

          1. “[F]orm a new group, a consortium of various scientists and not just those who oppose all vertebrate collection. Grant licenses to commercial dealers who agree to submit all finds to the group for them to Yay or Nay it’s importance.”

            Great idea if you’re laboring under the old 1800s concept that only special or rare fossils are scientifically important. That’s nonsense. In fact, most of the studies being conducted in paleontology today – that is, those studies that actually enable paleontology to pertinently inform other sciences such as biology and geology – are based upon large samples. These studies focus on assessing ranges of variation, adaptations through geologic time, changes in morphology from juveniles through to adulthood, shifts in geographic distribution, etc. All such studies require large numbers of fossils, not just a special few. So, were I as a vertebrate paleontologist and a spcialist in fossil horses (for example) to be involved in such a consortium, I would probably say that any fossil horse remains would be potentially significant – if not for me, directly and immediately, than for my colleagues, both present and future. And I suspect my other colleagues on such a panel would do the same for animals they studied. AND I suspect we’d also err on the side of caution and vote “Yea” on the significance of even those remains we didn’t personally want to study. (I’m not terribly interested in most fossil fish, but that doesn’t mean I don’t a lot of other paleontologists who are interested … and are learning nifty things from those fossils. It would be unforgiveable for me to dismiss such fish fossils as unimportant without input from my fish-centric colleagues.)

            All that being said: even if such a panel could somehow be formed, it wouldn’t work logistically. Who would pay for those “important” fossils selected by the consortium?  The scientists? Or would the excavators take a loss? What responsible commercial firm would even consider excavating fossils without a guarantee of being reimbursed? The whole idea doesn’t hold up.

          2. To address the last portion of your comment (the middle section are certainly good arguments), the important fossils selected would just be donated, possibly for a tax deduction, and the excavators would take a loss. As I understand it, that’s how it works with some of the major Canadian fossil excavators; they dig up a bunch of material, then researchers pick the ones they want or want to set aside and it’s donated for free, usually that is 10-15% of their finds for the season. Every piece they dug up is numbered and registered, a very open process. 

        2. This is inaccurate statement. In the United States, land owners claim ownership to only 3 feet of top soil of their provate land. The rest could be owned by different entity, or no-one. Some gas and mineral companies own mlns of ackre of land right under the feet of thousands of people. To won this deeper lands, you have to have a mineral rights, explore and pay taxes. 
          If no one owns, it is either state or federal property, just like in Mongolia.

          So, you can dig your backyard deep enough to find a dino, but get your rights before digging deeper than 3 feet.

      2. I’m for a middle ground, fine but I’m not for the theft and illegitimate sale of rare specimens based on loopholes in the law. Do you really think collectors care about damaged ribs? Do you really think that if they had access to unimportant material (usually because it’s damaged or extremely common) from other sites they’d suddenly stop demanding the most complete skeletons and skulls for their own personal inaccessible collection? I think your middle ground position is more than a little naive to be honest with you.

        As I said, having a wad of money should not entitle someone to the right to hoard stolen scientific artifacts because of shady legal loopholes. It really is nauseating that people are actually defending Heritage Auctions at all.

        1. In regards to your first part; collectors don’t care about damaged specimens because they can be restored and still be as valuable. They would be happier to have a Rex rather than a Bataar, even if the Rex is 75% restoration. The super high end collectors we’re talking about here want something showy.

          Also, protesting this stuff only drives the black market deeper, not get rid of it. There’s no way to stop it unless you make things legally available; raising supply and lowering demand. 

          1. Ok so you think that giving auction houses large numbers of damaged ribs will some how counteract the illegal poaching of rare but showy specimens such as near complete skulls? Give me a break.

            Also, how does protesting the sale of near complete specimens drive the black market deeper? These are the specimens that would not be on the auction house in the first place according to your model since they are highly valuable scientifically. Why do you try so hard to defend these people? Your model will never work so is this a “can’t beat ’em so join ’em” policy?

            Private collectors will not be satisfied with the less scientifically valuable specimens such as rib fragments and no amount of access to them will prevent the fossil poaching that leads to travesties such as the situation in the article. At the end of the day, showy specimens are also typically very scientifically important ones and I think anyone in their right mind would prefer those specimens to remain in museums and public collections instead of seeing them disappear forever because some rich jackass has decided they have a right to deny everyone because their personal hobbies supersede everything.

          2. To respond to part 1: Legalize the collection of spare specimens and that will indeed counteract illegal poaching. It’s supply and demand. Why take the risk of illegal poaching or buying something illegal if you can sell and buy it legally. Risk/reward, supply/demand, it’s economics.

            Part 2: Protesting will only ensure that future transactions will be conducted in backrooms. It’s not stamping out the trade. 
            I’m defending these people because the way the current situation is playing out is not beneficial to anyone. As is, Mongolia is saying “you stole this, we want it back, we don’t care about all the 10,000 manhours of professional prep work that went into it”.

            The best case scenario would be for the piece to be returned to Mongolia in exchange for a fee for services rendered. Considering Mongolia’s actions, you know they can certainly afford to pay $200k for the preparation work. I’ve seen this work with other disputable pieces before. Everyone may not be 100% happy but it saves both face, time, and money in the long run. 

            Part 3: You’re not a private collector, so you’re making assumptions for both hobby collectors and rich eccentrics. I know both types; hobbyists are happy with just about anything. Rich collectors want something showy, and don’t care as much about how rare it is, give them any common dinosaur skull well prepped and they’ll be happy. 

            Most museum space only show off the top 1% of their collections, the public HAS NO ACCESS to the research collections, not without proper academic credentials. 

            Find middle ground. 

          3. I can’t reply to your other comment but I’m beginning to has suspicions about you. Your supply/demand policy is ridiculous since the only thing in the supply line that would be increased would be fossils that are in low demand. Not that something like that would matter since economics isn’t that simple.

            Protesting changes nothing since specimens like this would not be sold because they are scientifically valuable. Can you point me in the direction of all these prepped well preserved skulls we have to spare?

            No, I’m not a private collector or a hobbyist but I’m beginning to suspect you know more about them than you’re letting on. I saw in another comment that you sell moon rocks all the time. Is this a bit of a business plan for you? I think I’ve finally detected your bias.

          4. Suspicions? I’m the definition of middle ground; a guy who is well educated in geo but has seen enough of the world to know it’s not all black and white; who makes sure scientifically important pieces do get to the right researchers while common fossils get sold to satisfy the market. What we should be aiming for is cooperation, not demonizing collectors and dealers. I know how the market works, and I know how academia works. 

            And yes, I can point you to plenty of spare skulls for sale, collected legally on private land, just with the owners unwilling to consign to an auction house because of high fees. 

            Besides, suspicions and personal attacks puts you on par with Fox News and the Tea Party. See what I did there?

      3. Here’s the thing… Most of the incomplete material that the public would give zero shits about (i.e. teeth, broken bones, limbs, ribs, etc.) wind up in storage.  These are very useful for research because they give information that can help reconstruct the environment or the animal’s lifestyle.  Amazing specimens like this almost ALWAYS go on display for the public. Additionally, museum collections tend to be ridiculously busy…

        There is a huge, not-so-gray gray area in the United States, where private land owners are perfectly able to sell the fossils collected on their land.  But reputable agencies that collect on private land go through many of the same steps academic paleontologists do, like collecting locality information.  If this specimen was LEGALLY collected on private land, by private, independent collectors, then some iota of location data should come with the specimen, which could instantly squelch all of this debate.  There isn’t… and that’s pretty dubious.

  10. I’m actually on both sides of the issue. We all know this is a grey area and not in black and white. While I appreciate the statements and arguments being made by the Mongolian government and vert paleo researchers, I don’t agree with how this is being handled, especially with the TRO. 
    So when you see something for sale that you don’t agree with, you can hire a lawyer to get a judge to file a TRO so that it can’t be sold unless it’s provenance is proven to your satisfaction? Didn’t realize it was that easy. Then you can tie it up in court with lawyer fees for years. Pretty handy if a country’s government is paying for the lawyer. 

    1. It’s not about the sale of something one does or does not agree with. The specimen almost certainly was taken from the territory of Mongolia, a country with laws explicitly claiming ownership to fossils within its territory and banning their commercial export. Either way, Mongolia has a valid case as there are very reasonable grounds to suspect the fossil came from within its borders.

      And, obviously, the courts do not consider the satisfaction of the plaintiff to be a criterion of any value. It will be a question of proof to the satisfaction of the court, not the plaintiff.

  11. Why does no one realize  that paleontology is a useless science in the grand scheme of things? Why does it matter to any one whether it should be called Tyrannosaurus bataar or Tarbosaurus bataar?  It is a useless science except to the handful of researchers collecting a paycheck for their useless research.

    1. Why does no one realize that historical, or philosophical, disciplines are useless in the grand scheme of things?

      There, see how stupid that sounds.  It is truly amazing that someone would, so brazenly, display such anti-intellectual ignorance in such a public forum.

      But alas, you are wrong. Paleontology was,and is, important in the recovery of… wait for it… fossil fuels!

  12. why does no one realize that paleontology is a useless science in the grand scheme of things (except maybe to help find oil)? Why does it matter whether it should be called Tarbosaurus or Tyrannosaurus bataar? It is a useless science except for the researchers collecting a paycheck for their useless research. Also, why do we care what the laws Mongolia or China are? Do we care about the laws of Iran or North Korea, etc? I guess the paleontoligists who want to keep digging there will kiss the Mongolian’s asses so they can continue to dig there. In the end all the specimens they discover will end up in the dilapidated shit hole they call a museum in Ulaanbaatar, and probably never displayed. 

    1. … Yes, generally people do try to care about not breaking the laws of other countries. It’s called common courtesy, or “Not being a fucking asshole”.

    2.  Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re really ignorant. Paleontology is the reason we have a geologic time scale, know anything about the history of life on earth, have some idea of where humans came from, know about mass extinctions, and most importantly – have a deep time perspective on issues of conservation, ecology, evolution, and extinction.

      Secondly, most paleontologists are educators, and no matter how you feel about paleontology – paleontologists are responsible for teaching future geologists, stratigraphers, biologists, anatomists, nurses, and doctors.

      Why the hell are you so bitter?

      1. “…But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, viniculture,
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    3. What a strange and uneducated thing to say. 

      It’s useless “except maybe to help find oil”?  They don’t help find oil, they DO find oil.  We’d have no clue where to even start looking for it without palaeontology. Sure, you’d strike lucky once or twice if you looked for it by randomly poking holes in the ground, but other than that?  We’d have run out decades ago.  You’d have no cars, no busses, no planes… and although we all know this would be a healthier option for the planet, I call anyone a hypocrite who says they’d rather do without oil in this day and age, in absence of a renewable alternative. 

      “researchers collecting a paycheck for their useless research”??  Ok, er…. who here gets PAID to research?  Hands up, now: don’t be shy!  Oh ok, I see one hand.  One hand representing the extreme minority of palaeontologists worldwide who actually get paid to do their research.  Seriously, hardly anyone gets paid to do their research.  A lot of the time it is the other way around: they have to find funding to pay FOR it.  And the funding is more often than not *nowhere near enough*.  Some get a decent amount from the oil industry: but this is to find oil.  This is not ‘useless research’.  Mostly they make money by being curators, teachers, lecturers…working in Tesco even… just like the rest of the world.

      “why do we care what the laws Mongolia or China are?”  Some people obviously don’t care.  Hitler didn’t care about international laws either.  That attitude is what is wrong with the world.  Congratulations on being part of the problem.
        

  13. so if you were lucky enough to find a Tyrannosaurus skeleton on your own land ( I doubt you own any) you would tell a willing buyer to go fuck themselves, and donate it to a museum? 

    1. If I found an ENTIRE T-Rex skeleton on any land that I happened to own? Goddamn would I donate it, because complete skeletons are so exorbitantly rare.

      1. If this scenario actually happened, you would give up $5-$8 million to donate it? There are people in the this world who do need the money. 

        1. This scenario does happen, all the time, every field season. Paleontologists write grants and solicit donations for fieldwork to go out and spend a lot of their own time (and their assistant’s/colleague’s) digging up, preparing, curating, studying, and (in some cases) displaying fossils for museums. Most paleontologists aren’t exactly rich, and spend a lot of time secure funding from sources that can’t be spent on non-research endeavors to dig up big, important fossils – mostly for the love of their science. They could easily switch jobs and earn quite a larger salary elsewhere for the equivalent amount of time spent/invested.

        2. I certainly need money, being a broke, unemployed ex-student. I’d still damn well donate it. Same if I found a piece of meteor or, well, anything that I feel should be kept for science rather than auctioned to the highest bidder.

          1. Meteorites (not meteor!) are a separate scenario, science only needs 20 grams of a specimen. 

  14. This is a crime. Selling on stolen property.

    Pity the FBI and NYPD are too busy conjuring up Muslim fanatics to handle this obvious criminal act.

  15. Everyone is assuming that this fossil was found and removed from Mongolia DURING the time it had this law on the books. Did any of you consider that maybe this fossil was found and removed BEFORE Mongolia enacted any laws preventing the removal of fossils? What if this fossil was removed from Mongolia in 1955 when there were no laws? 

    Everyone just assumes this is a recently found fossil.

    1. Exactly! When were the Heritage laws officially written? Can someone please cite them because the main Heritage law I see was written in 1990 and started enforcement in 1995. 

      1. In which case, Heritage Auctions should simply make this clear to the Mongolian government. Problem solved.

      2. If they legally possess the fossil then why don’t they simply release documents showing when and where it came from instead of this song and dance about how they know it’s legitimate and we should all just take their word for it? Do you think this kind of “evidence” would fly in a normal police investigation into theft? I didn’t steal this bicycle officer! The person I bought it from has the original receipt and has a great reputation! No, I won’t tell you who they are or produce the receipt. Just trust me! *rolls eyes*

        1. In this case, part of it is a matter of privacy. If consignors and buyers felt that their information would be shared with anyone who asked, they would not offer things up for auction. So a major auction house will fight to protect their clients. 

          1. Do you sincerely think that “privacy” should be a factor in the investigation of potentially stolen items? Nah, we don’t need the people who claim they own something legitimately to provide evidence of such because that might violate their privacy! It doesn’t matter if they may be guilty of doing something illegal. The authorities should have no right to look into matters. This is absurd.

          2. Just pointing out that in this case, privacy will be a major fighting point. As an auction house, they stand to lose future sellers and buyers if anyone can just hire a lawyer and get them to give up details on the ownership of an item. 

          3. Definition of legitimate: ”
            Conforming to the law or to rules”. Yes, what they’re doing is legitimate according to US laws. What you’re looking for is “Ethical”. I did not say whats going on is ethical. 

        2.  Heritage does not have to show or prove anything to anyone. You can all be as distressed as you want about your perception that Heritage is selling “stolen” property, but we are a nation of laws and under our laws Heritage has done nothing illegal. I am not defending them on moral grounds, but it is up to Mongolia to enforce their laws and until we have an agreement that we will aid them in this (more taxpayers money), if there is a legal buck to be made, someone will be there to make it. It is also a giant assumption that buyers of these high end fossils are private individuals that will squirrel them away from the world. Actually, most of these specimens are bought by museums, usually these days in South Korea or China. Not really the legal point here, but worth noting.

        1. I really doubt something written in a British newspaper can count as proof, much less hold up in a court of law. Just like this biased article.

          1.  All I’m saying is that it’s the only evidence we have so far – the fossil was prepared in a ‘British country’ and perhaps said ‘British newspaper ‘ interviewed a ‘British person’. Do the math.

      1. I am just pointing out that the illegal trade and auction of critically endangered/threatened species from across the globe is a major contributor to the sixth mass extinction. And while I agree that we should be measured in the protection of our now non living taxa and their fossilized remains, it would behoove us to show such outrage for the less sexy, but perhaps more important natural treasures. A vast majority (I would imagine 99.99% by the unit) of the creatures sold illicitly are not pandas. 

        Just my two pennies.

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  17. I’m from Mongolia, sorry for my poor english language. Few days ago I’ve heard TBataar is found from our country and going to be sold. And our President requested to US court to delay the auction. But today I read from websites it’s already sold. Is there any law in US?  Also if it was legal then it’s ok, but that thing is illegal. I would say to thieves “Stop stealing from our nation’s treasure, we’ll bring our treasure back”

    1. Tsedendorj, the auction was done, and the fossil was bought for over 1,000,000$usd. The sale has not been finalized and will be completed pending the result of the legal process involved.

    2. Problem is that there are no heritage treaties between the US and Mongolia, so it is not a federal law issue. This will be dealt in civil court with lawsuits. 

  18. Umm, New York is not in Mongolia.  Mongolian law does not apply.  And even if it did, “We’re just certain that the fossils came from Mongolia!  We don’t have proof, but we’re positive” is not a legal standard to deprive the current owner of their property.

    1. I Uncover @$$holism

      Let me make this simple.  Tarbosaurs are not found in New York.  Tarbosaurs are not found in the US.  Tarbosaurs are not found in North America.  They are sure as hell not found in Dorset.  Wherever it’s from, it’s stolen.  Period.  All your comments say is that you don’t have a problem with thievery, if the people you’re stealing from are far away.  Incidentally, capitalism doesn’t intrinsically condone theft.  Any statement to the contrary is the wishful thinking of a thief.  You aren’t uncovering other people as socialists — you are uncovering yourself as an ass.

  19. There is probably a nearly infinite supply of fossils like this buried on earth.  We have seen only those that have poked out of the ground by themselves.  They will continue being unearthed forever.  This is not an animal going extinct.  It is a pile of bones that is hard to find.  I really don’t care.

  20. Because some people gotta give their two cents: even if they don’t have anything useful or interesting to add.  Like a lot of people posting on here!

  21. You can make your collectivist arguments all you want, but one thing is clear – the Mongolian government did not find, excavate or put together this fossil.  It exists out in the open like it does, and we know about it and can see it – solely because of these supposedly “evil poachers”.

    Do any of you people have any idea of how many precious works of art and such still exist solely because of private collectors?

    1. I call “straw man”.  This isn’t about private vs. academic collectors, although that can be a worthy debate.  This is about whether or not the fossils were collected legally. Heritage Auctions seems bizarrely unwilling to simply demonstrate to the Mongolian government (and, now, to the American legal system) that the fossils were acquired in a fully legal fashion.  Show verifiable documentation that the fossils were not collected in Mongolia, or that they were collected prior to enactment of Mongolia’s policy prohibiting fossil exports, and this is all over.  The inability of Heritage Auctions to take this simple step prolongs the debate and causes many interested parties to question the integrity of the auction house.

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