According to documents obtained by The Observer this morning, a judge has signed a warrant for the much-contested Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton, which was sold at auction last month for over $1 million.
As we reported Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s office filed a civil complaint aiming to return the fossil to Mongolia, where the suit alleges the fossil originated (and was looted from).
Today, agents from Homeland Security Investigations will seize the skeleton and move it to a government facility in New York where the government holds art and antiquities that are awaiting repatriation, Lou Martinez, a spokesman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit of the Department of Homeland Security, told The Observer.
“It will be protected and at some point in time it will be repatriated to its rightful owners,” he said.
This is a particularly meaningful patrimony case as Mongolia, a new democracy, having undergone a peaceful revolution in 1990, is still getting its footing dealing with international issues such as these. It also draws attention to a rampant looting problem Mongolia faces, as a massive desert country with unpoliced borders and many natural history treasures underground.
At a breakfast meeting on June 6, The Observer spoke with several prominent paleontologists and representatives of the Mongolian government to discuss their findings after they examined the skeleton the day before. (After that inspection, Dr. Bolor Minjin, a Mongolian anthropologist, wrote a report identifying the skeleton as originating in her home country.)
At that meeting, Puntsag Tsagaan, senior advisor to the president of Mongolia, noted he was pleased that the investigation into the origin of the skeleton was moving forward.
“It will be a nice event in the relations between our two countries and also it will be a signal to the bad guys—looters who illicitly dig and export, sell, trade—it will be a very strong strong message to those illegal traders,” he said.