A Dinasour’s Near Auction Miss
IT’S A MYSTERY! How did a dinosaur that was in Mongolia travel first to England…then to Gainesville, Florida….and on to an auction house in New York?
For all of you mystery buffs, you may want to keep track of this one. At present a judge has ruled that the sale shown below is on hold until the country of origin of the bones be found. Thankfully there were some alert people who brought this auction sale into question even as it was being sold for a large sum by phone. (or maybe not so large if one gives thought to all the available dinosaurs for sale!)
Mongolia is saying it belongs to them and is not for sale. They have strict laws about any antiquity leaving the country. While I was in Mongolia, I had to have paperwork showing that a small snuff bottle was allowed to leave the country.
Mongolia is a very small country with great pride. They have a museum that displays some of the more recent finds in the Gobi Desert since their independence from Russia. One can make the rounds of the museums: art, history, and natural sciences in less than a day. There must have been some real money flashing and some strings pulled to get this priceless piece of history out of the country. (As the country of Mongolia has just this past week had its presidential election and large deposits of copper and gold have been found near its border with China, corruption is on the minds of everyone. There is great wealth under the sands what used to be nothing more than the vast Gobi Desert. This also includes the bones of dinosaurs.) It will be interesting to see if this one finds its rightful place back home at the Mongolian museum. (For more reading, see the article below and the one from the New York times.)
Tyrannosaurus Brings $1,052,500 At New York Event
NEW YORK – One of the great dinosaurs of the Cretaceous era, an eight-foot tall, 24-foot long, 75% complete Tyrannosaurus bataar – the slightly smaller Asian counterpart to the legendary North American T-Rex – has sold for $1,052,500, contingent upon resolution of a Texas state court proceeding. Heritage Auctions sold this dinosaur on May 20 as part of the company’s Natural History auction at Center 548 (548 W. 22nd Street, between 10th Ave. and West Street). The entire auction realized $2.63 million, not counting post-auction sales, which are still in progress.
“This is a once in a generation dinosaur and collectors definitely responded to both its rarity and its fierce beauty,” said David Herskowitz, Director of Natural History at Heritage Auctions. “A dino like this is rare to come across in any condition, let alone one as pristine as this.”
The sale – marking the first time a fully prepared Tyrannosaur has been made available at public auction (“Sue” the T-Rex was sold in 1996, but was still in field jackets) – was not without controversy, as the Mongolian government released a statement 48 hours before the auction suggesting the fossil belonged to the country.
“We respect the various opinions on the subject and wish to protect the legal rights of all parties involved,” said Greg Rohan, President of Heritage Auctions. “We have legal assurances from our reputable consignors that the specimen was obtained legally. As far as we know, the Mongolian government has not produced any evidence that the piece originated in its territory, but the final determination will be up to the American legal system.”
The proceedings were not without event, however, as Mongolia’s Texas-based attorney, without authority from the New York judicial system, tried to interrupt the auction.
The Tyrannosaurus bataar roamed what is now Central Asia in the Cretaceous period, around 80 million years ago. The dino had been in storage in England, still in its field jackets, until it was brought to the United States last year.
Sale of $1 Million Dinosaur Skeleton Is Halted After Origin Questioned
Published: June 19, 2012
An international legal dispute over a dinosaur skeleton sprouted last month from an innocent stack of mail at the American Museum of Natural History.
Mark A. Norell, who heads the museum’s paleontology division, was flipping through letters and packages in his office atop one of the museum’s turrets when he noticed an alarming curiosity in a catalog of scheduled auctions in Manhattan: a perfectly assembled Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton.
Mr. Norell believed there was almost no chance that the 24-foot-long, 8-foot-tall fossil had been legally removed from Mongolia, the only country where that type has been found. On May 17, three days before the auction, he wrote an open letter that was posted to listservs frequented by paleontologists.
“As someone who is intimately familiar with these faunas, these specimens were undoubtedly looted from Mongolia,” the letter said.
Thus began a whirlwind tale that came to involve the president of Mongolia; a lawyer in Houston; paleontologists and the United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, who on Monday filed a civil complaint seeking forfeiture of the skeleton and requesting its return to Mongolia.
The chaos surrounding Lot 49315 at a building called Center 548 in Chelsea was certainly uncommon, and not only because the item in question was not a painting, but an “incredible, complete skeleton, painstakingly excavated and prepared,” according to the catalog from Heritage Auctions.
The catalog led Mr. Norell to compose his letter, which landed on the desk of Tsakhia Elbegdorj, the president of Mongolia. The remains for Tyrannosaurus bataar, which lived 70 million years ago, were first discovered in 1946 during a joint Soviet-Mongolian expedition to the Gobi Desert. Under Mongolian law, fossils are the property of its government and are illegal to export.
President Elbegdorj was familiar with a Houston lawyer, Robert Painter, and called late Friday asking for help.
The next morning, Mr. Painter, who had met the president while representing United States investors in Mongolian mining ventures, found a federal judge in Texas to sign a temporary restraining order at his house on May 19, a Saturday morning.
Mr. Painter said he sent the order electronically to Heritage and then flew to New York to make sure the auction did not proceed. He worried that once the fossil was sold, it would disappear forever.
He arrived to find the fossil being showcased in the auction room.
“The auctioneer said the sale would proceed contingent on the outcome of a court case,” Mr. Painter said in an interview.
Mr. Painter said he called the judge, Carlos Cortez, on his cellphone.
“I stood up, raised my cellphone, and said, ‘I have the judge, and he’s ready to explain to you how this violates the court’s order,’ ” Mr. Painter said.
Mr. Painter said that he was politely ushered to the side of the room and that the auction proceeded. The fossil was purchased by an anonymous buyer, via telephone, for $1,052,500.
The next day, Heritage agreed to halt the sale pending the outcome of an investigation.
The federal civil complaint says that the fossil had been imported from Great Britain to Gainesville, Fla., in March 2010 by a company owned by a man who describes himself as a “commercial paleontologist.” The complaint says that documents presented to customs officials misstated the skeleton’s country of origin as Great Britain, misstated its value as $15,000, and incorrectly described the bones.
A spokesman for Heritage Auctions issued a brief statement from Jim Halperin, the company’s co-chairman, saying it believed that the seller had “purchased fossils in good faith, then spent a year of his life and considerable expense identifying, restoring, mounting and preparing” the skeleton.
Since the auction, the skeleton has been housed in an art storage site in the city. On Tuesday a federal judge in Manhattan, P. Kevin Castel, signed an order for federal law enforcement officers to take the skeleton into custody, Mr. Painter said.
The federal complaint also mentions the opinion of Mr. Norell and Philip Currie, a professor of dinosaur paleobiology at the University of Alberta, that the skeleton had been removed from Mongolia by poachers within the last decade. The skeleton was missing claws, toes and teeth, which are prime targets of poachers, and the fresh breaks of bones indicate it had been removed in recent years, they found.
IT’S A MYSTERY! If you are a real mystery snoop and read more updates about this investigation, let Boyer Writes know. We love a mystery…but more than that we don’t like small, growing countries, that have endured much and have finally thrown over communism being taken advantage of...should this be the case. Our thanks to Khogjmiin Duureg for pointing this out to us.
AN INDEPENDENCE DAY TRIBUTE
On the night of 12 year old Cody Green’s death, a marine stood outside his room the entire night. Cody loved the Marine Corp. This 4th of July Boyer Writes remembers all those in our services who care and who stand for freedom and honor.