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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations


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ICE recovers additional dinosaur fossils

NEW YORK – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has recovered additional dinosaur fossils the agency plans to return to the Government of Mongolia. This forfeiture is the result of an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

In addition to a Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton previously forfeited to the United States – and successfully repatriated by ICE to the Mongolian government May 6 by ICE Director John Morton – U.S. District Court Judge P. Kevin Castel signed a judgment May 9 forfeiting other dinosaur fossils.

The new items forfeited include:

  • A Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton (the second Bataar);
  • One Saurolophus Angustirostris skeleton (the Hadrosaur);
  • One Oviraptor matrix containing at least five Oviraptor skeletons (the Raptor Matrix); and
  • An additional Oviraptor skeleton (the Raptor).

U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baer signed a stipulation May 1 arranging for the return of other fossils including:

  • An additional Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton (the third Bataar);
  • A rock slab containing two Gallimimus skeletons (the Gallimimus slab);
  • Two additional Gallimimus skeletons;
  • An Ankylosaurus skeleton and skull;
  • A Protoceratops skeleton; and
  • One restored composite egg nest display piece made of composite dinosaur egg fossils.

These additional items were provided to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York by Christopher Moore, a British citizen.

"Through this investigation, HSI special agents around the country have seized numerous dinosaur skeletons that are pending repatriation to the government of Mongolia," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York. "HSI remains a committed partner in the effort to ensure that we investigate individuals involved in stolen foreign art, antiquities, relics and the illicit fossil trade. We look forward to returning these fossils to their rightful owner – the government of Mongolia."

According to court documents, the Tyrannosaurus Bataar – indigenous to what is now Mongolia – was a dinosaur that lived during the late Cretaceous period approximately 70 million years ago. It was first discovered in 1946 during a joint Soviet-Mongolian expedition to the Gobi Desert in the Mongolian Ömnögovi Province. Since 1924, Mongolia has enacted laws declaring dinosaur fossils to be the property of the Government of Mongolia, and criminalizing their export from the country.

Between 2010 and 2012, the Bataar skeleton and several other dinosaur fossils from Mongolia were imported illegally into the United States. The customs importation documents contained several false statements. First, the country of origin of the fossils was erroneously listed. In addition, the value of the fossils was substantially understated on the importation documents. Finally, the fossils were incorrectly described.

Texas-based Heritage Auctions Inc. offered the Bataar for sale at an auction conducted in New York City. Prior to the sale, the Government of Mongolia sought – and a Texas judge granted – a temporary restraining order prohibiting the auctioning, sale, release or transfer of the Bataar.

Notwithstanding the order, Heritage Auctions completed the auction and the Bataar skeleton sold for $1.05 million. HSI special agents seized the Bataar and a forfeiture action was initiated. Judge Castel entered a judgment Feb. 14 forfeiting the Bataar skeleton to the United States for its return to Mongolia.

A concurrent HSI investigation revealed that several additional Mongolian dinosaur fossils had been illegally taken from Mongolia, including the Second Bataar and the Raptor. During the investigation, Christopher Moore, a British fossil dealer, contacted the U.S. attorney’s office and informed the office of his possession of the Moore dinosaurs. Upon being advised that the Moore dinosaurs had been stolen from Mongolia, he agreed to send them to the U.S. government for their return to Mongolia.

Meanwhile, two additional dinosaur fossils – the Hadrosaur and the Raptor Matrix – were at one point in the possession of an auction house in California. The auction house agreed to assist in facilitating their return to Mongolia, consenting to the forfeiture of both items.

All of these fossils will now be returned to Mongolia as part of HSI’s efforts to facilitate the repatriation of fossils involved in this case.

HSI plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve the illegal importation and distribution of cultural property, including the illicit trafficking of cultural property, especially objects that have been reported lost or stolen. The HSI Office of International Affairs, through its 75 attaché offices in 48 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations, when possible.

HSI's specially trained investigators, assigned to both domestic and international offices, partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities. They also provide cultural property investigative training to law enforcement partners for crimes involving stolen property and art, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace.

Since 2007, more than 6,600 artifacts have been returned to 24 countries, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria; 15th to 18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru; as well as cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia and Iraq.

Learn more about HSI cultural property, art and antiquities investigations. Members of the public who have information about suspected stolen cultural property are urged to call the toll-free HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete its online tip form.


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Last Reviewed/Updated: 03/05/2015