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Published:June 21st, 2012 08:11 EST
Does the Tarbosaurus Fossil Sale at a NYC Auction Have a Backstory of Conspiracy?

Does the Tarbosaurus Fossil Sale at a NYC Auction Have a Backstory of Conspiracy?

By John G. Kays

How did a nearly in tact Tarbosaurus fossil get sold at an auction house, before what looks like a conspiracy of sorts, can be unveiled? I carefully studied over a half dozen stories on the Tyrannosaurus bataar (otherwise Tarbosaurus) scam, baffled as I was by what happened here, where the pristine dinosaur skeleton fetches more than $1 million at a May 20th auction in New York City. I am more particularly interested in how this scheme may have worked, and who was behind it.

Photos of the Mongolian version of T-Rex are impressive enough to warrant the million dollar plus price tag, a top bid at an auction, put on by The Heritage Auctions, which is based in Dallas.  One question I have, is why did The Heritage Auctions go ahead with the sale, when they knew the Mongolian government was trying to block the sale? From what I could glean from articles I read, regulation of items smuggled into the U.S. are lax, once they have managed to breach customs.

A restraining order on the sale of the Tarbosaurus fossil, secured by a U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, gives the Mongolians and scientists (paleontologists) a little more time to do some detective work, and to trace the provenance of this sterling example of a dinosaur fossil. From what I can tell, the fossil must have been shipped to England from Mongolia first. No hard date has been given as to when this was done, nor can I confirm it was done in the first place.

An article in Smithsonian Magazine (Dinosaur Tracking) gives us the most information available about how this smuggling scheme (or scam, or even conspiracy, depending how you want to interpret it) might have worked. The date given for when the remnants of this ancient majestic carnivore was secreted into the United States (from England) is March 27, 2010. Much falsification was evident on the custom cargo forms. The dinosaur got the green light, I keenly observe!

But who received the package? Was this person behind this entire operation? Was there a motive to profit? These are the types of questions running through my head this morning and last night, when I first discovered the marvelous monster mystery on the BBC. And where did the figure of $15,000 (an estimate of the value of the bone-laden cargo) come from? The Smithsonian piece identifies Eric Prokopi as the consignee for the imported fossil.

Apparently, it was Eric Prokopi who assembled the T-Rex brother into a complete, standing skeleton. What does Eric know about this whole situation? Was he in the picture even during the time some poachers were purloining the priceless fossil back in Mongolia? Or, how did he happen to be the one who signs for this package? My thinking, is once the fossil clears customs, you are in the clear, with the way the current laws read, regarding smuggled antiquities. 

And what about Heritage Auctions? Why did they go through with the auction, knowing the Mongolian government was on to them? And how much did they make off the sale? Did Prokopi make a bundle after paying only 15K? And what can we learn about how these poaching and smuggling operations work? As we stare at this stately Tarbosaurus, we are saddened by the fact we won`t be seeing him displayed in a museum any time soon. Yet we hope he`ll be returned to his rightful home of Mongolia, where he romped the terrain 70 million years ago. 

Release the Tarbosaurus! | Dinosaur Tracking