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Chinese Scientists Appeal for Return of Smuggled Fossils

The Chinese Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (CSVP) recently sent an open letter to Naturmuseum Senckenberg in Frankfurt, Germany, appealing for the return of a psittacosaurid fossil smuggled out of China.

The open letter reads that the museum has violated Chinese laws and international conventions by buying a series of fossils smuggled from China, including a psittacosaurid fossil bought at US$200,000 last summer and several Confuciusonis, Kongziniao in Chinese, a famous Mesozoic bird discovered in Northeast China.

"Buying smuggled fossils will only jeopardize research and further propel more illicit collecting and underground trading of precious fossils," said Dr. Zhou Zhonghe, researcher with the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The rare psittacosaurid fossil attracted worldwide attention last summer for the odd integument structure of the tail, which will provide a new view on the appearance of dinosaurs, said Xu Xing, a dinosaur expert in the same institute as Zhou.

Xu added that researchers aware of international conventions refused to study smuggled fossils and prestigious periodicals including Nature and Science forbid the publication of any research on smuggled fossils.

The fossils were most likely smuggled from the western Liaoning Province in Northeast China, where in recent years there have been many excavations of rare fossils, as well as a flood of illegal digging.

Unscientific digging, fueled by the smuggling and collection of illegal fossils, has caused a loss of information including about locality and stratigraphy, essential information for scientists researching this area.

A local paper, Chaoyang Daily, reported on January 8 that there are hundreds of people digging for fossils every day in Dapingfang Town in Chaoyang County and hillsides are covered with ravines and big holes dug by peasants.

As one of the most leading natural history museum in Europe, Naturmuseum Senckenberg has a responsibility to educate the public to fight illegal fossil trading and Chinese experts hope serious consideration will be given to the return of the fossils, the open letter stressed.

(Xinhua News Agency January 16, 2002)

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