U.S. returns dinosaur fossils to Mongolia

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Some valuable fossils that were stolen from Mongolia are finally headed home.

"These are not souvenirs to be sold to the highest of bidders," said Robert Perez, director of Customs and Border Protection's New York Field Operations. "They are irreplaceable priceless pieces of a country's history, its identity, and its national heritage."

Perez oversaw the inspection of a dinosaur skull upon its entry into the United States.

"We had some notion and some information that alerted our officers, our frontline officers to perform a more in-depth inspection of the actual goods as they were coming across the border," he said.

The most scientifically significant  fossil returned to Mongolia, the 70-million-year-old Alioramus skull is one only three unearthed to date, all in Mongolia.

"The most complete specimen of an Alioramus skull ever discovered," U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said.

And offered on eBay by a French company for $300,000 before Homeland Security seized it and, with the help of other agencies, proved it left Mongolia illegally.

"The government of Mongolia deeply appreciates your efforts," Ambassador Altangerel Bulgaa said.

The United States signed over the Alioramus and the remains of six other dinosaurs seized in Utah to the Mongolian ambassador to the United States.

Mongolia is home to some of the world's largest-known dinosaur fossil beds. It plans to display the repatriated remains in its museum of Mongolian dinosaurs. The ambassador admitted his country had no idea how many fossils had left Mongolia illegally.

Executive Associate Director of Homeland Security Investigations Peter Edge spoke on the complexity of identifying illegally exported cultural items and returning them to their countries of origin.

"Based on the 7,500 items we've returned since 2007, it's been a problem for a very, very long time," Edge said.