September 21, 2009
Much to the frustration of paleontologists, fossils are big business. Sites all over the world are raided for the petrified treasures, which are then shipped to private collectors. Such practices destroy dig sites, rob countries of their natural history, stifle our scientific understanding of the past, and deprive the public a chance of ever seeing the fossils. Black market fossil dealers do make mistakes, though, and in a ceremony last week U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials returned a collection of significant fossils to China.
Among the fossils seized was the skull of a saber-toothed cat, the skull of the small horned dinosaur Psittacosaurus, and 24 dinosaur eggs. The eggs had been found by customs agents at Washington’s Dulles International Airport, while the other fossils were discovered while being processed at Chicago O’Hare International Mail Facility. Scientific experts from the Virginia Museum of Natural History and the Field Museum in Chicago, respectively, examined the fossils and determined them to have come from China. The fossils may have been purchased from dealers in different countries, but there was no doubting that the specimens had come from China.
What will happen to the fossils now? The Chinese government is sending scientists to come and retrieve the fossils. The bones and eggs will brought to the Geological Museum of China for research.
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