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article imageHuge haul of smuggled Mongolian fossils repatriated by Feds

By Robert Myles     Jul 11, 2014 in World
New York - US authorities approved, Thursday, the shipment back to Mongolia of a huge haul of dinosaur fossils that had been illicitly imported to the United States having been stolen from archaeological sites in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert.
The shipment includes the remains of 18 dinosaurs dating from 68 to 80 million years old and a fossilized egg. The items had been illegally smuggled to the United States. They were seized by agents from the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) during the course of two separate HSI investigations into smuggled artifacts. HSI ascertained that the dinosaur fossils were smuggled out of Mongolia between 2005 and 2012.
A repatriation ceremony was held in New York, Thursday, attended by James T. Hayes, special agent in charge of HSI New York, Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for New York’s Southern District and Od Och, Mongolia’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Ambassador Och officially took delivery of a haul that included:
• A Saurolophus Angustirostris (hadrosaur) skeleton: Herbivorous hadrosaurs lived during the upper Cretaceous period. This duck-billed species of dinosaur gained exposure in the first Jurassic Park novels, although it didn’t feature in the film of the same name. One of the fossils returning to Mongolia is a nearly complete hadrosaur skeleton.
• An Oviraptor matrix or “nest” containing the remains of at least five oviraptor skeletons: Oviraptors were small dinosaurs about half the height of a human that were able to run and stand on their hind-legs, using their fore-limbs to manipulate food and other items. Their name stems from the Latin meaning “egg taker” or "egg seizer," one of oviraptor’s favorite meals being the eggs of other dinosaurs. One almost complete oviraptor skeleton is also among the items handed over to Mongolia as is an oviraptor egg.
• An almost complete Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton: Tyrannosaurus Bataar, also known as tarbosaurus (meaning “alarming hero-reptile”) was a large carnivorous dinosaur whose habitat the Gobi Desert in southern Mongolia. Like its close North American relative, Tyrannosaurus, it was one of the last surviving dinosaurs.
The skull of a Tyrannosaurus bataar (Tarbosaurus) which was returned to Mongolia at a ceremony on Ju...
The skull of a Tyrannosaurus bataar (Tarbosaurus) which was returned to Mongolia at a ceremony on July 10, 2014. The fossil was one of a number illegally removed from Mongolia by smugglers and traced by US Homeland Security Investigations agents.
US Immigration & Customs Enforcement
The repatriation of the dinosaur fossils comes a month after paleontologist Eric Prokopi was sentenced to three months imprisonment and 15 months supervised release on charges relating to smuggling, conspiracy and sale or receipt of stolen goods by a Manhattan court for his involvement in a smuggling scheme. Prokopi’s co-operation with investigators led to the recovery of at least 17 other dinosaur skeletons according to federal prosecutors.
"This is a historic moment for the US Attorney's office, in addition to being a prehistoric event," said Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara, speaking as some of the fossils were displayed at yesterday’s repatriation ceremony in Manhattan. "A recovery of this sort is really without precedent."
In preparation for the dinosaur fossils returning to their homeland, Mongolia is constructing its own “Jurassic Park” in the shape of a new natural history museum where the items will go on display.
Commenting on the return of the fossils, HSI special agent Hayes said yesterday, "The fossils returned today do not belong in the hands of any private collection or one owner. They belong to the people of Mongolia where they will be displayed in their national museum alongside the Bataar ICE repatriated last year. HSI will not allow the illicit greed of some to trump the cultural history of an entire nation."
A rock slab containing two skeletons of Gallimimus bullatus  a large  ostrich-like dinosaur. It was ...
A rock slab containing two skeletons of Gallimimus bullatus, a large, ostrich-like dinosaur. It was returned to Mongolia, July 10, 2014, in a ceremony in Manhattan. ICE & the Justice Department returned it to the Mongolian government along with the fossilized remains of over 18 dinosaur skeletons.
US Immigration & Customs Enforcement
Mongolia has a long tradition of taking firm steps in an attempt to preserve its unique paleontological heritage. Since 1924, Mongolian law dictates that all paleontological findings belong to the Mongolian. Personal ownership of items such as dinosaur remains, deemed to be of cultural significance, is banned as is the export of such items.
Over recent years, HSI has been heavily engaged in a number of operations to halt the illegal trade, not just in dinosaur artifacts, but in a whole range of historical items ranging from paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria, 15th to 18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru, as well as Chinese, Cambodian and Iraqi cultural artifacts.
The scale of smuggling in such historic items is massive. Since 2007, more than 7,150 artifacts have been returned to 27 countries the result of HSI’s cultural property, art and antiquities investigations.
More about Mongolian fossils, Mongolian dinosaurs, dinosaur remains, fossil smuggling, Homeland Security
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