A Mysterious Dinosaur Completed at Last – With Poached Fossils!

Pascal Godefroit reveals the fossils during the repatriation ceremony in Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia).
14/05/2014
A Mysterious Dinosaur Completed at Last – With Poached Fossils!
post by
Reinout Verbeke

Paleontologists Pascal Godefroit (RBINS) and François Escuillié (Eldonia) discovered the skull and feet of Deinocheirus in a private collection. This dinosaur with gigantic forelimbs and armed with impressive claws remained an enigma for nearly 50 years.

Deinocheirus mirificus (‘unusual terrible hands’), remained one of the most stubborn enigmas in paleontology. Nothing except its huge arms and a handful of other bone fragments had ever been found. Two new specimens of Deinocheirus were finally discovered in the Nemegt Formation of the Gobi Desert, respectively in 2006 and 2009, by members of the Korea-Mongolia International Dinosaur Expedition (KMIDE). Unfortunately, the skull and feet of both specimens were missing, apparently poached by dino hunters who roam the Gobi desert.

Puzzle completed

François Escuillié, director of ‘Eldonia’, a French private company specialized in paleontology, had located a strange skull and associated feet in an European private collection. In 2011, he invited Pascal Godefroit, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) specialized in Asian dinosaurs, to study these specimens. Escuillié and Godefroit suspected that these fossils might belong to one of the incomplete Deinocheirus skeletons recently unearthed from the Gobi Desert, so they contacted members of the KMIDE in order to compare the findings. And the skull and feet from the private collection perfectly matched the largest Deinocheirus specimen unearthed in 2006 in the Gobi. After nearly 50 years, Deinocheirus finally got its skull and feet.

The fossils are now under study by an international team of paleontologists. Preliminary results indicate that Deinocheirus is a giant (about 12 meters long) and basal member of ornithomimosaurs (‘ostrich dinosaurs’). Unlike other ornithomimosaurs, Deinocheirus was obviously not a fast-running animal. Besides its huge arms and claws, other peculiarities include the presence of a hump or a sail along its back, a bulky pelvis, extreme pneumaticity of its vertebrae, and robust leg bones.

Back home

The poached Deinocheirus skull and feet were finally acquired by Eldonia Company, which donated it to the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. By May 1st 2014, the fossils returned to their homeland and were officially presented by Godefroit and Escuillié to Mrs. Oyungerel Tsedevdamba, Minister of Culture, Sport and Tourism of Mongolia, at the occasion of a repatriation ceremony held at the Central Laboratory of Paleontology, Mongolian Academy of Sciences in Ulaan Baatar. The Deinocheirusfossils are now officially registered at the ‘Central Museum Of Mongolian Dinosaurs', together with the Tarbosaurus baatar skeleton, another poached dinosaur specimen that was recently saved from an auction in New York.

 

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