A New York auction house sold off a dinosaur skeleton for $1 million yesterday despite a restraining order from the Mongolian government, which said the find had been illegally exported, New Scientist reports. Heritage Auctions kept mum about the seller and winning bidder, and said it had "legal assurances" that the near-complete tyrannosaurus "was obtained legally." A lawyer for Mongolia, however, said the auction house planned to hold back the sale until courts settled the dispute.
Fossil smuggling is nothing new in Asia: Mongolia banned fossil exports more than 50 years ago, and China has seen its dinosaur and bird fossils fetch hefty prices abroad. In fact, a questionable dinosaur leg skeleton is awaiting sale at Christie's in London right now—probably worth $50,000 to $80,000. "It is very likely to be from Mongolia," says a paleontologist who warned the auction house about the sale. "But as there is no provenance," it may have been exported "prior to [Mongolia's] imposition of an export ban on fossils."