Fossils worth millions go back
Jewel Topsfield
January 15, 2008


A HAUL of 100 million-year-old dinosaur eggs and fossils seized by federal police after they were smuggled into Australia will be handed back to China today.

Heritage Minister Peter Garrett will return 750 kilograms of dinosaur, mammal and reptile fossils, worth millions of dollars, to Chinese ambassador Zhang Junsai in Canberra.

The fossils, seized between 2004 and 2007, will be returned under the Protection of Moveable Cultural Heritage Act, which allows Australia to react to requests from foreign governments to return artefacts exported illegally.

In June 2004, federal police seized 1300 fossils, including hundreds of dinosaur eggs, nests and skulls, rare tortoise remains and fossilised fish, from properties in Western Australia after a 12-month operation with Chinese authorities. [Meteorites were also siezed -kn]

Eggs and fossils can sell for tens of thousands of dollars on the blackmarket.

The haul, one of the largest recovered worldwide, was authenticated by paleontology experts at the West Australian Museum.

They were identified as coming from Liaoning Province, a remote area in northern China famous for fossils.

At the time, the director of the Department of Environment's moveable cultural heritage unit, Kevin Wohlers, said the operation was an important step in halting the illegal trade of fossils from China.

"This is probably the first time a government has taken this type of action to facilitate and assist the Chinese in stemming the illegal trade," he said. "They have got serious problems."

In 2005, the Government returned to the Egyptian ambassador a bronze axe head, a ceramic bowl and amulets unearthed in tombs in the Memphis necropolis and dated to between 664 and 332BC, after they were discovered at a Melbourne gallery.

The Protection of Moveable Cultural Heritage Act also bans Australian artefacts from being exported.

A meteorite discovered at a wheat farm at Binya in the Riverina, Ned Kelly's shoulder guard, a Beaufighter aircraft and a 1972 Ronnie Tjampitjinpa painting have been prevented from being sold overseas.

This story was found at: