Rabat – Aziz Rabbah, the Minister of Energy, Mines and Sustainable Development, said during an interview with the Spanish news agency EFE, that the Moroccan government has opened an investigation after it was reported that a 165-million-year-old Moroccan dinosaur tail fossil was auctioned off to a wealthy businessman on Tuesday, January 16 in Mexico.
Rabbah said that a specialized committee of the Ministry of Energy, Minerals and Sustainable Development and the Ministry of Culture has been set up to investigate the origin of the fossil as well as the circumstances which brought it to Mexico.
The Mexican businessman, who asked not to be named, purchased the fossil for his collection for an undisclosed sum.
However, according to the auction’s organizer, Morton’s Auction House, the 180-kilogram and 4-meter long tail was sold at a reserve price of $95,805 (approximately MAD 887,000). Morton’s added that any amount above the reserve price would have been donated to the BBVA Bancomer Foundation to help fund the reconstruction of some 5,000 damaged schools, destroyed or damaged after the powerful earthquake that hit Mexico on September 19.
Reuters revealed that the fossil remains are from a Sauropode, a 17-meters long 22-ton herbivore. The long-tailed dinosaur — of the species Atlasaurus — once roamed the Atlas Mountains in Morocco 165 million years ago. The report also points out that Moroccan paleontologists took 300 hours to clean the gigantic remains of the reptile before Utah scientists reassembled them.
The auction of this rare fossil raises questions, once again, about Morocco’s ability to protect its geological heritage, which is still vulnerable to many trafficking and smuggling efforts within and outside of Morocco.
According to the Spanish news outlet, La Republica, last year the auction house at the Drouot Hotel in Paris put for sale the skeleton of a marine dinosaur originally discovered in Morocco after it was illegally transported out of Morocco in 2011. This comes in addition to the auction of some fossils and rare antiquities on the Internet. Last year, an Irish jeweler named George Cornell posted on Facebook photos of fossil remains from a 100-million-year-old Spinosaurus, including a small piece of the dinosaur’s jaw. The remains had been discovered in the region of Comcom in the south of Morocco.