A judge in Texas ordered a halt to the sale of a Tyrannosaurus bataar the day before it was auctioned in New York for $1.05 million.
According to a document provided by a lawyer for the Mongolian government, which is seeking to block the sale, Judge Carlos Cortez in Dallas signed a temporary restraining order May 19.
The dinosaur fossil sold yesterday for $1.05 million, contingent on the outcome of the Texas litigation, according to a statement from Heritage Auctions.
Tyrannosaurus bataar, an Asian cousin of the North American T-rex, roamed the earth about 80 million years ago.
The Dallas-based auction house said that its T-bataar was excavated in the Gobi Desert within the past decade. Prepared and mounted, the creature is 8 feet tall and 24 feet long, with the body 75 percent complete and the skull 80 percent.
The bidding started at $850,000, after the auctioneer read the contingency statement to the audience. Two bidders vied for the fossil, which went to an anonymous telephone bidder for $875,000, without buyer’s commission, according to David Herskowitz, director of natural history at Heritage Auctions.
“It was a bargain,” he said. “The pre-auction publicity did scare off a couple of potential bidders.”
On May 18, the Mongolian government ordered an investigation into the origin of the fossil. Mongolian law prohibits the export of fossils. “Under Article 175 of Mongolian criminal law, the export of dinosaur bones and fossils is a criminal offense,” the government said in its lawsuit. The Gobi Desert covers parts of Mongolia and China.
The fossil was initially exported to Japan, then to England, Herskowitz said. It entered the U.S. legally and was prepared and mounted in the country.
“The purpose of the lawsuit is to compel Heritage Auctions to disclose who claims to own the skeleton, where the person got it from and the chain of custody,” said Robert W. Painter, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Mongolia’s President Elbegdorj Tsakhia. “The way I read the law, which has been translated from Mongolian, anything that is excavated in Mongolia is the property of the state.”
In a statement released as e-mail with the auction house’s post-sale report, Heritage President Greg Rohan said: “We have legal assurances from our reputable consignors that the specimen was obtained legally. As far as we know, the Mongolian government has not produced any evidence that the piece originated in its territory, but the final determination will be up to the American legal system.”
The hearing will take place on June 1 in a district court in Dallas, Painter said.