In yesterday's post, I linked to a picture of the coolest fossil ever found, not the most important fossil ever found, but definitely the coolest- the remains of a Velociraptor mongoliensis and a Protoceratops andrewsi killed and buried by a natural disaster (probably a sandstorm or dune collapse) while locked in a deadly struggle. The fossil was found in Mongolia, which had been a source of rich fossil finds since the 1920s. When I first saw a picture of this fossil (to see just how awesome it is, check out these photos of a cast of it) as a child, I was bound and determined to travel to Ulan Bator to see it one day.
The apex predator of Cretaceous Mongolia was a close relative of Tyrannosaurus rex named Tarbosaurus bataar (some paleontologists consider it a species of Tyrannosaurus, but I, admittedly not an expert, side with those who feel it should be a separate genus- it all depends on whether you're a "lumper" or a "splitter", taxonomically speaking). Last year, a nearly complete T. bataar skeleton was sold at auction to an anonymous private bidder pending court approval. Happily, a year later, the sale of the fossil remains was blocked and the T. bataar will be returned to the people of Mongolia. The fossil remains of the past are too important to be plundered by black marketeers, sold to private individuals, and locked away from researchers and the public.
Mongolia's victory in this case is also our victory. It is in the nature of scientific inquiry to share knowledge and resources. Back in 2000, the Mongolian government loaned the fighting dinosaurs fossil to the American Museum of Natural History, and I was able to travel to Manhattan to see the fossil for about four bucks round-trip rather than trekking to Ulan Bator at great expense. With the Mongolian people in possession of the beautiful Tarbosaurus bataar fossil, I stand a better chance of seeing it in New York than I would have had if the fossil had ended up in a private collection of a Manhattan vulture capitalist.