U.S. Returns Stolen Dinosaur Eggs and Fossils to Mongolia

Dinosaur skeleton
A fossil of a dinosaur seized by U.S. customs officials. Among the smuggled finds was an incredibly rare, 70-million-year-old dinosaur skull. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Handout via Reuters

The U.S. has returned several dinosaur eggs and fossils to Mongolia, which smugglers had taken from the country to sell to private collectors. Among the returns are the almost complete skeleton of the Bactrosaurus, a large land-based herbivore; eggs and a skeleton from the sheep-sized Protoceratops dinosaur; and the skull of an Alioramus, a smaller relation of the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Over the last three years, the U.S. has returned 23 dinosaur fossils to Mongolia. They uncovered the Alioramus skull, the rarest of this current stash, after it arrived in the U.S. with false papers, the BBC reports. Customs officials said that a French dealer had put the 70-million-year-old skull on eBay for $300,000, before shipping it to New Jersey with papers claiming that it was a French replica.

The skull is so valuable because it is only one of three ever found—all in Mongolia. The one sent to the U.S. was the most most complete of the trio. "These are not souvenirs to be sold to the highest of bidders," said Robert Perez, director of Customs and Border Protection's New York Field Operations, quoted by Fox 5 News. "They are irreplaceable priceless pieces of a country's history, its identity, and its national heritage."

The government of Mongolia, which has some of the world's largest fossil beds, thanked the U.S. for intercepting the specimens and said it will display them in its own dinosaur museum.