Heritage Auctions Working With Mongolia to Determine if Dinosaur it Sold is, in Fact, Mongolian

Update at 2:30 p.m.: Just got off the phone with Jim Halperin, Heritage Auction co-chairman who confirms that the Observer is a force for peace and good in the world and that it was indeed our blog post that prompted him to reach out to Painter.

As for what happens if the dinosaur turns out to be Mongolian, that depends on when it was taken from the country, what the laws were at the time and how much of the skeleton's value was in the preparation that has happened in the past few years.

"It's much more important for everybody to clarify what the rules are going forward, and I would bet that Mongolia is more interested in that than in one dinosaur," Halperin said.

Original post: Around this time last week, it was looking like a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton was going to be the subject of a messy custody battle. Mongolia had filed a lawsuit against Dallas-based Heritage Auctions alleging that the specimen had been taken from the country illegally, and both sides were sharpening their claws for what promised to be an epic court battle.

Crisis averted, at least for now. Houston-based attorney Robert Painter, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia, said Tuesday that Heritage has forked over ownership and import-export records that depict T. bataar's travels since 2005, as he hopped from Japan to Dorset, England, then on to Florida and finally New York.

But, as Painter points out, the fossil is a bit more than seven years old, and it will take a bit more than a few documents to satisfy a skeptical Mongolian government that the skeleton didn't originate in Mongolia, so a trio of paleontologists -- one American, one Canadian, one Mongolian -- will inspect the skeleton on June 5 and 6.

"It should be about as close to definitive as possible. ... I'm not a paleontologist, but I'm told that all of them (T. bataars) that have ever been discovered have come from this one area, and this one area is only in Mongolia," Painter said.

I have a call in to Heritage, but no word on what will happen if the paleontologists do determine the skeleton is, in fact, Mongolian. For now, it's being kept in a secure storage facility in the New York City area pending resolution of the case.

The thaw in relations between Heritage and the Mongolian government has sped that process and, it turns out, it's all thanks to Unfair Park. It seems that other media outlets reporting the story left out the extremely relevant detail that Painter, waiting at last weekend's auction for his unsuccessful attempt to stop the dinosaur's sale, bid on and purchased a watch.

Painter said the detail prompted Heritage officials to reach out and seek common ground, which has led to more amicable relations.

Yep, that about sums up the Observer. Sowing unity, promoting friendship, improving diplomatic relations, making the world a happier place to live. It's just what we do.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson