The Heritage Auction house recently sold a cousin of the tyrannosaurus for $1,052,500 despite a court order to not do so. The completely assembled Tarbosaurus fossil came with very little documentation, casting a shadow of speculation on where the remains were found. It seems this dinosaur fossil appeared out of thin air.
In 1955 paleontologist Evgeny Maleev found the first fossil of a Tarbosaurus in the Gobi Desert, and every specimen thereafter has also been found in Mongolia. There is little doubt where this skeleton came from, and Elbegdorj Tsakhia, President of Mongolia, questioned the legality of selling the dinosaur fossil two days before the auction. The Mongolians have strict regulations and heritage laws to prevent the poaching of fossils. All paleontology expeditions must receive formal permission and every find remains in the country, although the Mongolian Academy of Sciences makes loans to academic institutions.
Heritage Auctions is claiming the dinosaur fossil entered the United States legally and went on to sell the fossil, despite the outcry from paleontologists and the Mongolian government. Lawyer Robert Painter obtained a temporary restraining order for the sale of the Tarbosaurus from Judge Cortez. Painter actually rushed in to the auction with Cortez on the phone and Heritage Auctions President Greg Rohan asked Painter to leave and refused to speak with Cortez.
Pending the results of the legal dispute, there is still some hope that the fossil may be returned to Mongolia. The United States has returned smuggled fossils in the past, and in 2009 the US government returned to China the ancient bones of a saber-tooth cat and dinosaur eggs dating back 100 million years. Fossil poaching is a serious issue, and Heritage Auctions should have respected the wishes of the Mongolian Government.
Smithsonian Magazine. “Tarbosaurs on Trial” by Brian Switek. Retrieved May 22, 2012, from http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/dinosaur/2012/05/tarbosaurus-on-trial/