The fossils of 18 dinosaurs have been shipped back to Mongolia, the U.S. authorities have said. The fossils were looted from sites in the Gobi desert and were recently discovered in the U.S. following a criminal investigation.
The investigation found commercial paleontologist Eric Prokopi guilty of stealing an entire Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil. He was sentenced to three months in prison, and helped authorities find other missing fossils by giving them information on their possible whereabouts.
“This is a historic moment for the US Attorney’s office, in addition to being a prehistoric event,” said Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara. “A recovery of this sort is really without precedent.”
The fossils will go into a new natural history museum that Mongolia is building, sources say. Eventually, at least 31 dinosaurs will be returned to the Asian country. The fossils were smuggled out of Mongolia between 2005 and 2012.
Some of the dinosaurs that have been shipped back to Mongolia include two Tyrannosaurus bataar skeletons, Oviraptor skeletons, and a dinosaur egg. The fossils will be displayed in the new museum because “do not belong in the hands of any private collection or one owner,” said James T. Hayes, a special agent in charge of the New York office of Homeland Security Investigations.
In Eric Prokopi’s sentencing in June, authorities mentioned that more investigations have been launched towards taking back stolen fossils, including remains that have possibly been imported in New York, California, and Wyoming.