NEW YORK, July 11 (UPI) -- Dozens of dinosaur fossils have been illegally unearthed and smuggled out of Mongolia over the years. Now, many of them are returning home.
The Justice Department announced Thursday that it had returned the remains of at least 18 dinosaur specimens, all confiscated by U.S. authorities between 2005 and 2011 -- enough for the massive Asian nation to start a new museum. Mongolia is planning to build its very own dinosaur museum, converting what used to be a history museum devoted Vladimir Lenin in Ulan Bator, the nation's capital.
"This is a historic event for the U.S. attorney's office, in addition to being a pre-historic event," said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, who attended a ceremony at the United Nations building in New York to celebrate the fossils' return.
Among the Cretaceous and Cenozoic era fossils being returned to their place of origin are the giant skeletons of two twenty-foot-long Tyrannosaurus.
"The fossils that we're returning today don't belong to any private collection or any one owner, they belong to the people of Mongolia," said James Hayes, Special Agent-in-Charge for ICE's Homeland Security Investigations office in New York, who has worked to track down a number smuggled fossils and compiled evidence used to prosecute those that have looted Mongolia's cultural and paleontological treasures.
Additional fossils will be returned to Mongolia in the coming years.