Dinosaurs are ancient creatures that fascinate and captivate people all over the world. The dinosaurs roamed the earth millions of years ago, and no one can fathom what it would be like to see a living, breathing version of the gigantic skeletons we have today. While we have lots of dinosaur skeletons to study, there are relatively few compared to how many actually existed.
Little boys in particular love dinosaurs, and some never lose the obsession as they grow up. Recently, a 38-year-old Florida man named Eric Prokopi made headlines when he plead guilty to smuggling a 70-million-year-old dinosaur skeleton into the U.S. The case proposed questions of the ownership of dinosaur skeletons and their value. The main question, however, was should the dinosaur go back home?
Ty the Tyrannosaurus
The dinosaur skeleton in question was affectionately nicknamed “Ty.” Ty is a tyrannosaurus bataar whose skeleton is 8 feet tall and 24 feet wide. Experts agree that it most likely lived in the Nemegt Basin region of Mongolia. Ty – who is often incorrectly referred to as a T-rex – is an amazing specimen of a dinosaur. His skeleton is almost entirely complete, which is rare. He has some damage to his skull, however, which may have been caused when it was excavated by inexperienced poachers. Somehow, Ty made the long, illegal journey from Mongolia to the U.S.
Smuggled from Great Britain
Eric Prokopi is a fossils dealer who smuggled Ty into the U.S. through Great Britain. He told customs the skeleton was from Great Britain, and that it was worth only about $15,000. Experts put the value at around $1 million, which is what it sold for at auction in Florida on May 20 to an anonymous buyer. The U.S. filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mongolia to void the auction and return the skeleton to its place of origin, so the auction was contingent on the outcome. Many questioned, should the skeleton be returned to Mongolia? Or was it legally in the U.S.?
From Bones to Skeleton
The U.S. won its lawsuit, and Ty’s skeleton was seized and is to be returned to Mongolia. Prokopi, despite pleading guilty to the smuggling as well as several other charges related to snuggling dinosaur bones, maintains that he did not misrepresent the skeleton to customs when it was imported. At that time, the skeleton was not assembled, and Ty was simply a pile of dirty bones. In that state, Prokopi argues that it was worth only $15,000, and it is true that the bones are certainly worth less than the skeleton. Prokopi spent an entire year cleaning and assembling the bones into a full skeleton, and only then did it become worth $1 million.
Land of Origin
This case has again brought dinosaurs into the limelight, and it demonstrates the significance countries put on them. Mongolia desperately wanted the skeleton to be returned. The President of Mongolia said it is an “important piece of the cultural heritage of the Mongolian people.” Legally, any dinosaur bones found in Mongolia are property of the country. Regardless of your opinion on where Ty belongs, he will soon be back home in Mongolia
M.P. Adams is a journalist with a passion for science. He is currently trying to learn Mongolian in preparation for his next assignment.