A nearly intact skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus sold for $1.05 million at auction in New York on Sunday, although the sale has been disputed by the Mongolian government, which has questioned whether it was obtained legally.
The skeleton of the Tyrannosaurus bataar, a smaller Asian cousin of the fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex that roamed North America during the Cretaceous period about 80 million years ago, measures 8 feet tall and 24 feet long, according to a statement by Heritage Auctions, which conducted the sale in New York.
It was discovered in the Gobi Desert, which stretches across portions of northern China and southern Mongolia. Heritage Auctions President Greg Rohan said he does not know in which country the skeleton was found.
The body of the skeleton is 75 percent complete and the head is about 80 percent complete, said David Herskowitz, the director of Heritage's natural history department. By contrast, he said, most dinosaur skeletons on display in museums are "50 percent complete or less."
Heritage declined to identify the buyer, who submitted the winning bid by telephone.
The sale will not be completed, however, until a court fight launched by the Mongolian government last week is resolved. The Mongolian government obtained a temporary restraining order against the sale in Texas state district court in Dallas, where Heritage is based.
A U.S. lawyer for the Mongolian government tried to interrupt the sale on Sunday afternoon in New York, Heritage said.
"I am very surprised that Heritage Auctions Inc. knowingly defied a valid court order, particularly with the judge on the phone, listening and ready to explain his order," Houston attorney Robert Painter, who is representing the Mongolian government, said in a statement.
Rohan said a restraining order from a state court in Texas was not enforceable in New York, where the sale occurred. Nonetheless, he said, Heritage has agreed not to complete the sale until "a court signs off on it."
In a statement last week, Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia said if the skeleton had been found in Mongolia, "it was illegal to auction the T-Rex and the fossil must be returned to Mongolia."
Rohan said the remains "entered the United States legally" and were offered for sale by a "reputable consignor who is well known to us."
(Reporting by Marice Richter; Editing by Eric Beech)