Nicolas Cage has handed over an illegally imported dinosaur skull that he had purchased in 2007 to the US government as part of an effort to return stolen fossils to Mongolia, the actor’s representative said.
The Tyrannosaurus bataar skull was sold at auction in 2007 in Manhattan for USD 276,000 by Beverly Hills-based IM Chait Gallery, according to the US Attorney’s civil forfeiture complaint, reported BBC.
Cage agreed to transfer possession of the fossil to the Department of Homeland Security, based on a determination that “the fossil was indeed illegally smuggled into the US and rightfully belongs to the Government of Mongolia,” Alex Schack, a representative for Cage, said in an email.
The skull is now in the possession of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a division of DHS that specializes in investigating stolen antiquities and cultural artifacts.
“Cultural artifacts such as this Bataar Skull represent a part of Mongolian national heritage. It belongs to the people of Mongolia,” said ICE Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Glenn Sorge.
The civil complaint, which was announced last week, leaves the buyer unnamed. Schack confirmed that Cage was the buyer and he was identified in 2013 when controversy over the skull arose.
At the time of sale, the skull was described as “an extremely rare tyrannosaurid” from the Late Cretaceous period (67 million years ago).
Cage received a certificate of authenticity from the auction company, according to Schack. In 2014, DHS contacted Cage’s representatives to inform him that it believed the fossil he had purchased may have been illegally smuggled into the US from Mongolia.
He cooperated with the investigation and arranged for an inspection of the fossil by government officials, Schack said.