Dinosaur Skeleton At The Center Of Custody Battle Is Actually A Frankenstein

By Amir Khan on September 6, 2012 9:21 AM EDT

Tyrannosaurus
A 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus fossil that has been at the middle of a custody battle for months is actually a Frankenstein-like amalgam, a Manhattan court was told on Wednesday. The finding complicates federal prosecutors case against a fossil dealer who reconstructed the dinosaur. (Photo: Reuters)

A 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus fossil that has been at the middle of a custody battle for months is actually a Frankenstein-like amalgam, a Manhattan court was told on Wednesday. The finding complicates federal prosecutors case against a fossil dealer who reconstructed the dinosaur.

Heritage Auctions sold the 8-foot high, 24-foot long Tyrannosaurus Bataar, a relative of T-Rex, skeleton for $1.5 million to an undisclosed buyer, but Mongolia, where the skeleton was found, claims the skeleton as its own property.

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The U.S. government filed suit against the fossil dealer on behalf of Mongolia in an attempt to get it returned to the country.

On Wednesday, Michael McCullough, an attorney representing Florida commercial paleontologist Eric Prokopi, said that half of the reconstruction came from one creature, while the other half came from at least two, most likely many" others.

"It's kind of a Frankenstein model of a dinosaur parts of several dinosaurs," U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel said, according to Reuters.

However, experts for the U.S. government disagree.

"Their opinion is that it is largely from one dinosaur," Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin Bell told Reuters. "It was marketed as one dinosaur. A 75-percent complete, but one dinosaur."

Under Mongolian law, fossils found in the country are the exclusive property of Mongolia. Heritage Auctions completed the sale pending a court decision, and if a court rules that the specimen is indeed Mongolian, it would have to be returned to the country.

"There is no legal mechanism (nor has there been for over 50 years) to remove vertebrate fossil material from Mongolia," Mark Norell, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History, told LiveScience in May. "These specimens are the patrimony of the Mongolian people and should be in a museum in Mongolia."

Norell, alongside two Mongolian paleontologists, examined the 8-foot high, 24-foot long Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton, named Tarbosaurus, and said it's definitely a Mongolian specimen.

"I have no doubt that the Tarbasaurus bataar will be returned to Mongolia," Puntsag Tsagaan, senior adviser to Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia, said, according to the Huffington Post.

He went on to say that returning the skeleton to Mongolia would not only foster good relations between the U.S. and Mongolia but would also send a message to "bad guys, those who illegally excavate fossils and sell them on the black market."

Norell, alongside two Mongolian paleontologists, examined the 8-foot high, 24-foot long Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton, named Tarbosaurus, and said it's definitely a Mongolian specimen.

"I have no doubt that the Tarbasaurus bataar will be returned to Mongolia," Puntsag Tsagaan, senior adviser to Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia, said, according to the Huffington Post. He went on to say that returning the skeleton to Mongolia would not only foster good relations between the U.S. and Mongolia but would also send a message to "bad guys, those who illegally excavate fossils and sell them on the black market."

The case was recently adjourned, and will reconvene in December.

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