Published: February 20, 2007
(AP) — Customs agents have seized fossilized dinosaur eggs worth hundreds of thousands of dollars that apparently were smuggled out of China.
The fossils were seized earlier this month from the Bonhams & Butterfields auction house in Los Angeles after they were sold for $420,000 in December to an undisclosed buyer.
The 22 eggs, each 65 million years old, were so well-preserved that curled-up embryonic raptors are visible inside 19 of them.
The deal was scrubbed before any money changed hands after concerns about the legality of their export were raised.
“That sale was canceled and the property turned over to the US government,” said Levi Morgan, a spokesman for the auction house in San Francisco.
The eggs were found in Guandong province, China, in 1984, shipped to Taiwan and then in 2004 they were shipped to an American collector in Florida, according to a customs agent’s affidavit filed last month in federal court.
However, authorities found that the shipper in Taiwan had no paperwork to prove that the fossil was legally transferred from China, and an invoice falsely described the items as being from Taiwan and worth only about $500, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Morgan said the auction house, which has been auctioning fossils for about ten years, had to trust that the American seller had the legal right to consign the eggs.
“We’re not able to verify the export documents,” he said. “In some respects, we do take their word for it.”
No arrests have been made but the auction house is cooperating with the investigation.
Customs agents are holding the eggs as evidence for any criminal case but in the long run “the goal is to return them to China,” customs spokeswoman Virginia Kice said.
Fossil smuggling is a serious crime, said Robert Schoch, head of the customs office of investigations in Los Angeles.
“These represent the cultural identity of something significant to China. … It goes right to that country’s identity,” he said.
Last year, an Australian mineral dealer pleaded guilty in Los Angeles federal court to illegally importing hundreds of fossilized dinosaur eggs from China. He was sentenced to probation and fined $20,000. The eggs were returned to China.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm