News and Features

Remember the Heritage Auction of the Smuggled T.Rex?

Official, scientific reconstruction of the eating habits of the Mongolian dinosaur.  Image: Shutterstock

Actually, it wasn’t a Tyrannosaurus rex, it was his close Mongolian cousin, Tarbosaurus bataar. But still, you may remember the story from last summer, how a dino fossil auction in New York by Dallas-based Heritage was nearly interrupted because Dallas judge Carlos Cortez had signed a temporary restraining order – on the ground that the T. bataar was believed to have been stolen from Mongolia, which forbids the commercial export of fossils. The sale went ahead — despite the dramatic intervention of a Houston lawyer — but then the feds moved in

Well, lucky for you, the story isn’t behind The New Yorker‘s pay wall, so now you can read the whole fascinating feature by Paige Williams — how fossil hunting became a gold rush (thanks, Steven Spielberg), how they became a huge black market, how Heritage cooperated with the investigation (post-sale), how the buyer, Eric Prokopi of Florida, has fought back, only to be arrested for smuggling. The story gets very complicated, very interesting – including how the chief of Heritage Auction’s natural-history division, David Herskowitz, was instrumental in bringing minerals and fossils into the fine arts auction market.