The Mongolian Government's request, issued less than 48 hours before the auction, is misleading, unreasonable and inappropriate. There is simply no reason to believe that any laws enforced by the United States have been violated and we remain unconvinced that even Mongolian law would have prevented export from Mongolia. It's important to note that Mongolia won its independence in 1921 and this specimen is obviously quite a bit older than that.By far, the most galling statement I've yet read is the bit that says "Mongolia won its independence in 1921 and this specimen is obviously quite a bit older than that." Quite a strategy, undermining the very idea of a nation laying claim to the natural resources within its borders, just because those resources were formed long before the nation existed. If that's the case, let's just throw out all of international law. I can't wait to see what proof Heritage can provide for the fossil's legality. It apparently comes from "an individual with a good reputation who has warrantied in writing to us that he holds clear title to the specimen. We've seen no evidence even suggesting that the fossils were collected illegally." Nope. That doesn't cut it either. You've seen it. You just refuse to acknowledge it. Shifting the burden of proof doesn't change it.
The protestations coming from the auction house have a familiar flavor to them, seemingly ripped straight from the Creationist playbook. Creationists are protecting their dogma; Heritage is protecting its money. It all adds up to a deliberate effort to ignore the truth and manufacture doubt with irrelevant statements like “no one knows where exactly it was dug up. They’d have to find the hole and match up the matrix.” If it's a Tarbosaurus, it came from the Nemegt Formation. If it came from the Nemegt Formation, it was illegally exported. Simple. There's the bare sliver of a chance that it came from a Nemegt exposure previously untapped, from outside Mongolia, but in a message to the Dinosaur Mailing List, Dr. Tom Holtz writes "if that were the case for this specimen that would make it even more scientifically significant!"
Facts about the materials' collection and those who did all the hard work of transporting, preparing, and mounting it, are hard to come by. Going by a report in the Daily Mail, Painter Law Firm writes that "this 80 million year old fossil was found in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia in 2005. A team of UK and American scientists assembled it. Mongolian law prohibits the transport of such fossils outside the country."
So, to lay it out in a few bullet points:
1. These fossils are part of the natural heritage of the Mongolian people.
2. These fossils deserve to be studied properly, so that the people of Mongolia and the world can benefit from the knowledge the material holds about the history of life on Earth.
3. Stealing is bad, but when conducted by a group of people who should know better, it's unforgivable.
It's sad that this specimen was sold, but I'm going to remain hopeful that the Mongolian people will receive justice when this case is heard in court. The auction house can make all the noise they want. They'll run into the same problem the Creationists do. We've got the facts on our side.
Painter Law Firm Press Release
Heritage Auctions pre-sale press release
Heritage auctions post-sale press release
Daily Mail story referring to the fossils' collection and mounting
Brian Switek's post at Laelaps, with combative comment thread!
One last thing, copyeditors: T. rex, not T-Rex. Okay?