Mongolia, along with the USA, China, Canada and Argentina, are popular places to find dinosaur fossils. The dinosaur remains found in the territory of Mongolia belong to the Cretaceous period between 145.5 and 65.5 million years ago. In the past, a large number of dinosaur remains discovered in Mongolia had been sold illegally abroad. The Government of Mongolia in cooperation with other countries has been working to bring those stolen remains back to Mongolia. Since 2013, a total of 23 dinosaur findings that ended up in the US have been returned to Mongolia as a result of joint efforts of the two governments and other organizations. In April 2016, fossils of 8 dinosaurs, including 7 skulls smuggled into the US and 1 into Belgium, have been turned over to Mongolia.
Skull of Alioramus
On April 5, a ceremony to return the 7 remains belonging to 5 dinosaur groups to the Government of Mongolia was held in New York City. The artifacts include the skull of Alioramus, the complete skeleton of a duck-billed Bactrosauru and herbivorous Protoceratops and Psittacosaurus, bones of duck-billed dinosaurs and nests of Troodontidae. Now there are criminal cases related to 11 illegal dinosaurs are being investigated in the US. One of them is the widely known skull of a 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus Bataar which a buyer purchased at auction in 2007, unaware of its illegality.
Also, in the same month, Mongolia received the skull of a Saurolophus angustirostris, which was exported illegally to Japan from Mongolia and then passed to a private collector in Europe. The fossil was handed over to Mongolia within the framework of the 2015 cooperation agreement between the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science of Mongolia and Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) on the restoration of Mongolia-originated geological, paleontological and biological heritages smuggled abroad.
A joint expedition composed of paleontologists of the Institute of Paleontology and Geology, Mongolian Academy of Sciences and the RBINS had confirmed that the finding was discovered in 1947, in the Nemegt Formation (late Campanian/early Maastrichtian, Late Cretaceous) of the Gobi Desert, Mongolia, by a Russian Paleontological Expedition led by I.A. Efremov. A research article titled ‘Perinatal Specimens of Saurolophus angustirostris (Dinosauria: Hadrosauridae), from the Upper Cretaceous of Mongolia’ published in PLOS ONE scientific journal said that “Because of the quantity and quality of dinosaur skeletons from Mongolia, the whole Nemegt Formation has become a favorite target for poachers, and untold numbers of Saurolophus specimens are now in private hands around the world or have been destroyed in the process of poaching”.
M.Saruul-Erdene, journalist of the Mongolia Daily News newspaper writes “Behind every dinosaur fossil illegally sold to other countries, there is always history, crime, greed, adventure and science". For instance, the aforementioned skull of Alioramus was sold from France through the E-bay e-commerce website for USD 300 thousand. In 2014, border agents confiscated the skull at the US border and then professionals and scientists identified it as originating from Mongolia, not from France or a faux artifact as stated in its false documents.
Mongolian paleontologist Bolortsetseg 'Bolor' Minjin, Director of the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs NGO, which she founded, also works with the American Museum of Natural History in New York to study discoveries and findings connected to Mongolia. She said that the Alioramus is a very rare dinosaur, registered only twice in scientific records, and both were discovered in Mongolia. Since organizing the repatriation of Tarbosaurus Bataar to Mongolia in 2012, she has voluntarily participated in three more returns.
The article is featured in the Mongol Messenger's issue No. 25 for June 24, 2016.