Hollywood actor Nicolas Cage has agreed to return a Mongolian dinosaur skull he bought at auction, after it was found to have been illegally smuggled. Mongolia considers all such items to be government property.
A representative of the actor confirmed on Tuesday that Cage had been the unwitting buyer of the so-called Bataar skull, and that he had agreed to forfeit the fossil.
Cage, who bought the #link:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarbosaurus# fossil at a New York auction in March 2007, had "received a certificate of authenticity from the auction company," his publicist Alex Schack said.
The piece was bought for $230,000 (210,000 euros), plus a commission, in an auction that saw fellow actor Leonardo DiCaprio also bid on the skull.
In 2014, the Department of Homeland Security told Cage they believed the skull had been smuggled from Mongolia via Japan.
The actor "fully cooperated with the investigation, including arranging an inspection of the fossil by agents," Schack said.
New York prosecutors last week said they were seeking court approval to take custody of the skull so it could be returned to Mongolia. However, they did not name the buyer.
Cage subsequently agreed "to transfer possession of the fossil" to the US Department of Homeland Security, according to his representative.
"The battery of huge, knife-like, serrated teeth are quite impressive and are in excellent condition," court papers quoted the auction catalog as saying. "Overall, this remarkable specimen is scientifically accurate and important," it added, with the 32-inch (80-centimeter) skull 65 percent complete.
Asian cousin of T. Rex?
Tarbosaurus bataar lived in the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago and its remnants have only been found in the Nemegt Basin in Mongolia's Gobi desert, where all fossils are considered to be government property.
Some experts believe Tarbosaurus is simply an Asian representative of the Tyrannosaurus genus, and the terms are often used interchangeably.
The first specimens of Tarbosaurus bataar - which date back 70 million years - were found in the Nemegt Basin in 1946. Since then more than 30 specimens including 15 skulls have been found.
rc/cw (AP, AFP, Reuters)