Friday, May 18, 2012

MONGOLIAN DINOSAURS IN PERIL

Heritage Auctions, a large auction house in New York City, has a number of dinosaur fossils going on the auction block this Sunday.  A number of these are spectacular, including a complete skeleton of the giant Asian predator Tyrannosaurus bataar. But there are problems because there is evidence that at least some of the specimens were illegally collected and smuggled out of Mongolia, a country which prohibits the export of such objects.  The Mongolian government is alarmed and has stepped in.


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Mr. Elbegdorj Tsakhia, President of Mongolia, in a strongly worded statement, has directed his government to investigate the origin of the specimens.


The office of the President of Mongolia, Public Relations & Communications Division

www.president.mn
2012-05-18

President of Mongolia is concerned that T-Rex skeleton may belong to Mongolia


President Elbegdorj Tsakhia talked to Minister of Education and Science, Mr.Otgonbayar calling his immediate attention to a dinosaur issue.

International science news on rare Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton to be auctioned on Sunday in NYC raised this alarm in Mongolia because the Heritage Auction website did not name the country where the T-Rex was found. The President of Mongolia, Elbegdorj Tsakhia, instructed Minister Otgonbayar to find all the information on the origin and route of the T-Rex fossil and to send an urgent appeal to the Heritage Auction for disclosure of this information before the Sunday auction.

If the T-Rex “uncovered in the Gobi Desert” originated in Mongolia, President Elbegdorj Tsakhia, said that it was illegal to auction the T-Rex and the fossil must be returned to Mongolia.

President Elbegdorj also called the international science community to help identify the origin of the T-rex and to alert the Mongolian government of any illegal international trade of Mongolian fossils.



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The Mongolian Academy of Sciences has written to Heritage Auctions pointing out that some of the specimens were without a doubt stolen from Mongolia and that others are highly suspect, and asking that there auction be halted. 

INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF MONGOLIAN DINOSAURS

May 18, 2012

To Heritage Auctions:

I am writing you at the request of Elbegdorj Tsakhia, the President of Mongolia.  He has asked me to inquire on the country of origin for the specimen of Tyannosaurus (aslo known as Tarbosaurus) bataar (lot 49315) which is scheduled to be auctioned by your company this Sunday, May 20, 2012.  I am the director of the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs and also serve as the New York representative of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences.  Based on our experience in the studying the collecting of Mongolian dinosaurs, and on the information provided by your company with other specimens to be auctioned this Sunday, we strongly suspect that the Tyrannosaurus specimen, as well as several others you intend to auction, came from Mongolia.

Mongolian law prohibits the export of fossil specimens, and if this specimen did in fact come from Mongolia, we we strongly urge you not to auction this specimen because it would then have been acquired and exported illegally.  In fact, information on your website indicates that two of the tyrannosaur teeth (lots 49318, 49320) came from the Nemegt Formation, which is only exposed in Mongolia.  Thus these specimens were acquired and exported illegally.  We also strongly suspect that the ankylosaurus skull (lot 49317) came from Mongolia, and the troodontid , may have come from Mongolia as well (lot 49318).

The auctioning of such specimens fuels the illegal fossil trade and must be stopped.  If you could provide detailed information on the provenance(s) of these specimens, I will then pass on this information to the President of Mongolia.  I strongly urge you not to auction the two, illegally exported tyrannosaur teeth from Mongolia.  I strongly urge you not to auction the other specimens we have indicated until their legality is fully resolved.  Even if the owner indicates that they did not come from Mongolia, we suggest that you investigate this matter closely as sometimes collectors falsify information or documents to make illegal specimens appear "legal". In the meantime, the best approach would be an open dialogue with the government of Mongolia and other interested parties in order to find an acceptable resolution to this problem.  If it is eventually determined that these specimens did not come from Mongolia, it would be prudent for Heritage Auctions to consult the laws of the country of origin because many countries now prohibit the export or sale of such specimens (China is one example).  Thank you for your prompt attention in this matter.

Sincerely,

Bolortsetseg Minjin, Ph.D.
Director, Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs
New York Representative of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences


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Dr.Mark Norell, a world-renowned dinosaur specialist at the American Museum of Natural History who has worked extensively on Mongolian dinosaurs, has written the following open letter concerning the origin of the specimens and issues of legality.

THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

17 May 2012

Dear Sirs-

It is with great concern that I see Mongolian dinosaur materials listed in the upcoming (May 20) Heritage Auctions Natural History catalogue. For the last 22 years I have excavated specimens Mongolia in conjunction with the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. I have been an author on over 75 scientific papers describing these important specimens. Unfortunately, in my years in the desert I have witnessed ever increasing illegal looting of dinosaur sites, including some of my own excavations. These extremely
important fossils are now appearing on the international market.

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 are being sold at auction.

Sincerely,

Dr. Mark A. Norell
Chairman and Curator
Division of Paleontology
norell@amnh.org



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Time is short and it is uncertain whether or not the fossils in question will be auctioned. The auction is scheduled for Sunday May 20th at Heritage Auctions, Center 548 (548 W. 22nd Street, between 10th Ave. and West Street).  The specimens are on exhibit for for viewing on Saturday: 10:00 AM ET - 3:00 PM ET.




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