NEW YORK (AP) — Federal authorities said Wednesday they are seeking to return a Tyrannosaurus bataar skull to Mongolia after an anonymous buyer purchased it at auction in the United States in 2007 for $276,000.
Prosecutors filed papers in Manhattan federal court to formally secure the 32-inch-long skull after the California buyer who purchased it agreed to give it up.
The 67 million-year-old skull will be among more than a dozen dinosaur skeletons that have been returned to Mongolia since 2012. Federal prosecutors said in a news release that other items returned to Mongolia include a nest of dinosaur eggs and the relics of numerous small, unidentified lizards and turtles.
"Each of these fossils represents a culturally and scientifically important artifact looted from its rightful owner," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.
Glenn Sorge, acting head of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Manhattan office, said cultural artifacts such as the skull "belongs to the people of Mongolia."
"These priceless antiquities are not souvenirs to be sold to private collectors or hobbyists," Sorge said.
Prosecutors said in court papers that the skull, unlawfully taken from the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, was smuggled into the United States in June 2006 by being falsely labeled as "fossil stone pieces."
They said it had been shipped from Japan to Gainesville, Florida. It was auctioned in Manhattan on March 25, 2007, selling for $230,000 plus a commission that raised the fee paid by the buyer to $276,000.
It had been marketed as an "extremely rare" Tyrannosaurus skull from the late Cretaceous period, which ended about 65 million years ago.
"The battery of huge, knife-like, serrated teeth are quite impressive and are in excellent condition," court papers quoted the auction catalog as saying of a skull that was 65 percent complete. "Overall, this remarkable specimen is scientifically accurate and important."