Can A Texas Doctor Keep A Mongolian Tyrannosaurus Skull?

The Mongolian government says the skull, like all fossils found in the country, cannot be removed or sold by collectors.

By Michael MarksAugust 14, 2017 12:35 pm

An anesthesiologist from Wichita Falls is involved in a custody fight with the federal government – over a tyrannosaurus skull. According to the Dallas Morning News, Dr. James Godwin says he legally purchased the skull from a business partner several years ago. The feds claim the skull was illegally smuggled from Mongolia, where fossils are property of the government.

Though the case is in its early stages, its resolution could clear up some murky areas of law in an industry where the difference between the white, grey, or black market isn’t always clear.

Matt Heaton, owner of online fossil retailer Fossil Era, says knowing the applicable laws in the country where a fossil was found is crucial for collectors. He says dealers like himself verify the legal status of specimens they sell to collectors.

Some countries like Mongolia have laws prohibiting the removal of any fossil collected there, though Heaton says the law has not always been enforced to the letter. In the U.S., collecting fossils on private property, with the owner’s permission, is legal. Fossils found on public lands cannot be sold, he says.


Written by Shelly Brisbin.