Chinese authorities are investigating the smuggling of a rare fossilized dinosaur egg nest, which was auctioned for US$420,000 in Los Angeles on December 3, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said yesterday.
"The Chinese Government will request the return of the dinosaur nest fossil in line with international pacts" if the investigation proves that China is the original owner, Qin said.
The investigation began in response to inquiries several Chinese palaeontologists made when they learned about the selling of the nest by the auction house Bonhams & Butterfields.
Dating back 65 million years, the nest was said to have been unearthed in 1984 in South China's Guangdong Province. Well-preserved, it contained 22 unhatched eggs, with 19 containing embryos.
Some of the embryos are still visible through their shells.
"The fossilized nest is very precious as it offers clues to the dinosaur's reproduction system, such as how many eggs it lays and how many are hatched at one time," Wang Xiaolin, a senior researcher with the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told China Daily. The public auction of such a smuggled fossil has set a bad precedence, affecting the protection of valuable fossils in China, Wang said.
Before the auction, Xing Lida, a dinosaur expert with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, appealed to Bonhams not to auction the fossil, which he believed was smuggled out of China, Xinhua reported.
Bonhams has refused to reveal the identity of the buyer and the mystery surrounding its new home has concerned scientists.
Gerald Grellet-Tinner, a dinosaur expert at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, told US media that the nest should be housed in a museum in China, where it was discovered, and not in private hands.
He Shuzhong, deputy director of policy and regulations with the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, told China Daily that China has the right to request the return of unlawful exports of cultural heritage objects to other countries. This includes not only cultural relics but also fossils.
(China Daily December 13, 2006)