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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The cultural heritage of dinosaurs

Where's the logic?

Back in 1946, a joint Soviet-Mongonlian expedition to the Gobi Desert uncovered a dinosaur skeleton.

It is a Tyrannosaurus-type predator; its name is Tarbosaurus bataar, and it is 8 metres long -- which marks it as a small or young specimen, as T. bataar is commonly 12 metres in length.  It is also 70 million years old, far outdating the arrival of humankind on this planet.

Somehow, this skeleton made its way to the United States.  How it got there has not been revealed, but it may have happened before 1949, when the importation of dinosaur fossils was banned.  Earlier this year, this skeleton was auctioned by Heritage Auctions of Texas, and sold to an anonymous private buyer for about a million greenbacks.

Controversy, however, has intervened.  According to the Mongolian president, Tsakhia Elbegdor, his country wants the skeleton returned, stating that it is "an important piece of the cultural heritage of the Mongolian people."

An the Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara agrees with him; in fact, he vows to make sure the skeleton is returned, saying it was "looted" from Mongolian territory.

The reasoning of lawyers is often hard to distinguish; in this case I have to admit that the logic entirely escapes me.  When Tarbosaurus bataar was running around looking like the picture above, there were no Mongolians to terrorize ... and certainly no country called "Mongolia." The first men migrated out of Africa 50,000-100,000 years ago; the monoliths erected by the earliest Mongol tribes date back to the Bronze Age; and Mongols were not defined as a separate people until about the time of Tamerlane the Great.

You can read the convoluted story in a blogsite called Everything Dinosaur, which was the original whistle-blower.

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