The US Attorney’s Office recently filed a complaint seeking the forfeiture of a Tyrannosaurus skeleton. The skeleton was imported from Great Britain to Florida to a company called Florida Fossils and later auctioned in New York.
The Mongolian government obtained a temporary restraining order to prevent the sale from being finalized, alleging that the Tyrannosaurus was a “bataar,” a species native to Mongolia. Pursuant to Mongolian law, fossils are considered property of the government and Mongolia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention that prohibits the smuggling of cultural property. The US Attorney’s office thus filed this forfeiture action (against the name of the property to be seized) in an effort to have the skeleton returned to Mongolia.
Florida Fossils, however, moved to dismiss the complaint, alleging that a significant portion of the skeleton came from different bones already owned by the claimant that were not related to the bataar, and that the claimant had assembled different pieces into a larger skeleton. The Court, who referred to the skeleton as a “kind of Frankenstein model,” gave the Government an opportunity to amend the complaint to clarify this point as well as other issues, including whether such a dinosaur could have come from a place other than Mongolia.
It will be interesting to see whether the “Frankenstein defense” works, either in this matter or in other cases involving disputes over cultural property, including art. If you have any questions about this post, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org