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The Curious Case of Mongolia’s Missing Dinosaur Fossil and How It Made Its Way Home



Desolate and beautiful, southern Mongolia’s Gobi Desert is a vast, treeless expanse, with few permanent settlements and even fewer paved roads. It was here, amid the crumbling outcrops of a fossil site known as Ukhaa Tolgod, that the poachers struck.


The thieves would have worked methodically, digging out a half-meter-long block of soft red sandstone containing the whitish bones of a small dinosaur. They likely doused the skeleton with superglue, a crude substitute for the substances that paleontologists use to harden and protect the fossilised bone. Then they probably wrapped the block in hessian and plaster, loaded it into a four-wheel-drive truck, and drove away, leaving smashed pieces of bone and bottles of superglue strewn across the desert.


They had something valuable in their possession, that much the poachers would have known. What they could not have guessed was that it would turn out to be such a sensational discovery. Nor could they have known the epic journey this fossil would take around the world, passing through the hands of criminals, dealers, and scientists – only to end up right back where it began, in Mongolia, a decade later.