Getting furious over fossils might sound like getting jealous of wallpaper, but in the real world the "very dead animal" trade can involve just as much illegality as ivory. Hunters, smuggling and international trade are always attracted to things you can dig up and sell - be they diamonds or dinosaurs.
In this case the literal bone of contention is the remarkably well-preserved skull of a new species of armored anklyosaurus, Minotaurasaurus ramachandrani. The "Minotaurasaurus" reflects the bull-like size and shape of the new dinosaur. The "ramachandrani" reflects Vilayanur Ramachandran, who spent ten thousand dollars to stick his name on it - and that's where the trouble sets in.
The skull appears to be entirely legitimate in terms of actually being an authentic fossil, but at that point it and legitimacy part ways while the skull dives into a bush to avoid a searchlight. It was bought at a showcase famous for smuggled goods, has no proof of being legitimately exported from Mongolia (where it was found in the Gobi desert), and no museum will have anything to do with it for fear of encouraging black market trade. Now paleontologists are protesting publication of a paper on piece in a recent issue of Current Science.
On the one hand, buying the bone seems fair enough: you find a fossil, recognize its value and decide to purchase it for posterity rather than leave it to rot. "Surely two hundred million years of waiting is long enough," you think, and selflessly save the subject for science. On the other hand, funding organizations who habitually illegally cross borders and break the law for profit is generally frowned upon by the scientific community, or any other community who doesn't like the idea of roving bands of gunmen, leaving them in the unenviable position of having to ignore interesting finds to prevent future crimes. And yes, ignoring dinosaur remains to prevent future crimes is the plot of a TimeCop novel.
At the moment it doesn't seem as if the skull is going anywhere. The paper has been printed, Mr Ramachandrani has his name on it, and he has told Mongolian authorities that he'll be happy to return it to them if they can prove it crossed the border without a permit - about as sincere an offer as a cat offering to watch your mice for you. The whole point of a permit is that you're meant to have one, and what "proof" does he claim there should be - the smugglers T-78A "Crossing the border without telling the government" customs form?
Posted by Luke McKinney