If you follow the world of fossil hunting, you may remember this story. And if you don’t, you might remember it anyway, because there’s little that piques the interest of weird news reporters than headlines that include phrases like “dinosaur smugglers.” Dinosaurs all over the world can rest easy tonight, knowing that the most complete skeleton of Tyrannosaurus bataar ever found is being shipped back to its place of origin, Mongolia, now that the court case United States of America v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton (actual name) has been settled.
The story of this particular T. bataar first made waves when its auction was announced. See, it’s rare for fossils of any significance to wind up on the private market, uncovered as they usually are by research teams that have connections to museums or public backers. It’s even rarer for a nearly complete skeleton of a “classic” and well-known dinosaur species (or one of its very near cousins) to be available to the private buyer. But only two days before the auction, some doubt was thrown on the proper origins of the T. bataar. It had been listed by its owner, Eric Prokopi, as having been dug up in England.
This seemed odd to most folks, as Tyrannosaurus skeletons are really only dug up in two places: the western U.S., and Mongolia. Digging one up in England would have required some reevaluation of what we know about the species. Heritage auctions decided to go through with the sale, but announced that they would be holding the dinosaur until a court ruled on its place of origin. Prokopi would go on to plead guilty to “one count of conspiracy to smuggle illegal goods, possess stolen property, and make false statements, one count of smuggling goods into the United States, and one count of interstate sale and receipt of stolen goods,” and forfeited not just the T. bataar, but another skeleton of the same species, as well as Saurolophus and an Oviraptor.
It was announced today that the T. bataar has been turned over to the U.S. government for return to
a museum Mongolia, where it belongs. Prokopi is still awaiting sentencing, after making a $250,000 bail. Fare thee well, T. bataar, on your journey back to Asia. Sitting inside a Heritage Auction facility probably didn’t give you the best experience of America, but I’m glad things appear to have worked out for the best.