The tyrannosaur in question, from the auction house website.
On top of that, paleontologist Mark Norell of the American Museum of Natural History, who has spent plenty of time in the Gobi, has issued an open letter asking for the sale to be halted:
It is with great concern that I see Mongolian dinosaur materials listed in the upcoming (May 20) Heritage Auctions Natural History catalogue. For the last 22 years I have excavated specimens Mongolia in conjunction with the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. I have been an author on over 75 scientific papers describing these important specimens. Unfortunately, in my years in the desert I have witnessed ever increasing illegal looting of dinosaur sites, including some of my own excavations. These extremely important fossils are now appearing on the international market."There is no legal mechanism to remove vertebrate fossil material from Mongolia." Says it all, doesn't it? It's hard to believe that there could be a favorable outcome to this, but here's hoping that reason prevails and the auction house does the responsible thing.
In the current catalogue Lot 49317 (a skull of Saichania) and Lot 49315 (a mounted Tarbosaurus skeleton) clearly were excavated in Mongolia as this is the only locality in the world where these dinosaurs are known. The copy listed in the catalogue, while not mentioning Mongolia specifically (the locality is listed as Central Asia) repeatedly makes reference to the Gobi Desert and to the fact that other specimens of dinosaurs were collected in Mongolia. As someone who is intimately familiar with these faunas, these specimens were undoubtedly looted from Mongolia. There is no legal mechanism (nor has there been for over 50 years) to remove vertebrate fossil material from Mongolia. These specimens are the patrimony of the Mongolian people and should be in a museum in Mongolia. As a professional paleontologist, am appalled that these illegally collected specimens (with no associated documents regarding provenance) are being sold at auction.
Dr. Mark A. Norell
Chairman and Curator
Division of Paleontology
Dr. Bolortsetseg Minjin of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences has also issued a letter, this on behalf of the president of Mongolia:
I am writing you at the request of Elbegdorj Tsakhia, the President of Mongolia. He has asked me to inquire on the country of origin for the specimen of Tyannosaurus (aslo known as Tarbosaurus) bataar (lot 49315) which is scheduled to be auctioned by your company this Sunday, May 20, 2012. I am the director of the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs and also serve as the New York representative of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences. Based on our experience in the studying the collecting of Mongolian dinosaurs, and on the information provided by your company with other specimens to be auctioned this Sunday, we strongly suspect that the Tyrannosaurus specimen, as well as several others you intend to auction, came from Mongolia.
Mongolian law prohibits the export of fossil specimens, and if this specimen did in fact come from Mongolia, we we strongly urge you not to auction this specimen because it would then have been acquired and exported illegally. In fact, information on your website indicates that two of the tyrannosaur teeth (lots 49318, 49320) came from the Nemegt Formation, which is only exposed in Mongolia. Thus these specimens were acquired and exported illegally. We also strongly suspect that the ankylosaurus skull (lot 49317) came from Mongolia, and the troodontid may have come from Mongolia as well (lot 49318).
The auctioning of such specimens fuels the illegal fossil trade and must be stopped. If you could provide detailed information on the provenance(s) of these specimens, I will then pass on this information to the President of Mongolia. I strongly urge you not to auction the two, illegally exported tyrannosaur teeth from Mongolia. I strongly urge you not to auction the other specimens we have indicated until their legality is fully resolved. Even if the owner indicates that they did not come from Mongolia, we suggest that you investigate this matter closely as sometimes collectors falsify information or documents to make illegal specimens appear "legal". In the meantime, the best approach would be an open dialogue with the government of Mongolia and other interested parties in order to find an acceptable resolution to this problem. If it is eventually determined that these specimens did not come from Mongolia, it would be prudent for Heritage Auctions to consult the laws of the country of origin because many countries now prohibit the export or sale of such specimens (China is one example). Thank you for your prompt attention in this matter.
Bolortsetseg Minjin, Ph.D.
Director, Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs
New York Representative of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences
There's a petition at Change.org that needs some signatures. Can't hurt.