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Poached Deinocheirus skull found, returned, everything is awesome

Illustration for article titled Poached Deinocheirus skull found, returned, everything is awesome

Deinocheirus was one of the greatest dinosaur enigmas of my childhood. It was nothing but two massive arms—eight feet long—that were so unlike any dinosaur we were familiar with. And being only arms, it seemed somehow more mysterious than the other dinosaurs known from partial remains. My friends and I spent many afternoons speculating about the gargantuan vicious predator they certainly must have belonged to. Probably like . . . bigger than eight T. rex tied together. With raptor claws on every toe. Definitely the best dinosaur.


I was overjoyed, then, to hear that someone at SVP 2013 was claiming to have finally found a body! And not just one, but two bodies, one of which had even larger arms than the eight-foot monster arms known since 1965! This was incredible! Exciting! After almost 50 years, an answer! I actually jumped a little when I read that the animal had sported a fancy hump!

But my excitement was curtailed when I learned that the skeletons were incomplete. They had no skulls or feet.


See, looters had found the skeletons too, and had cut off and stolen the skulls and feet, presumably to (illegally) sell to private collectors. Skulls and feet are small compared to an entire skeleton, so they're easy to quickly extract, easy to smuggle out-of-country, and easy to sell to somebody wanting an affordable "genuine fossil" for their mantlepiece. So this great dinosaur mystery, so close to being completely put to bed, had been tragically sullied by looters looking to make a quick buck, and by the selfish private collectors perpetuating their behavior by paying for looted fossils.

But all is not lost! Not even all skulls! François Escuillié, a French fossil dealer, recognized a skull and feet (in an unnamed private collector's collection) as possibly the very same skull and feet stolen from Mongolia. After confirming that they truly were a match, he "acquired" them from the collector, and has already returned the fossil treasures to their home country of Mongolia, where a head-to-toe skeleton of Deinocheirus can finally at long last be assembled and studied.


It will henceforth reside in Mongolia's year-old Central Dinosaur Museum, alongside the poached Tarbosaurus that was saved from private auction and returned to Mongolia last year.

This is super exciting, you guys. I can't wait to see some photos.

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