Nicolas Cage Returns Stolen, $276,000 Dinosaur Skull (Yes, Really)

Nicolas Cage
Nicolas Cage Jason Kempin/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

He wanted a piece of the land before time! The one and only Nicolas Cage has returned the skull of a Tyrannosaurus bataar to the country of Mongolia after it was revealed that the fossil had been stolen.

The Internet-beloved actor, 51, purchased the skull in 2007 — reportedly outbidding Leonardo DiCaprio in the process — for $276,000 from I.M. Chait, a gallery in Beverly Hills. His publicist told NBC News that the National Treasure star even obtained a certificate of authenticity for the skull at the time. 

Neither Cage nor the gallery was accused of wrongdoing. The actor has agreed to surrender the skull, though the question about whether he'll receive a refund still remains unanswered. 

Everything was fine, according to his rep, until the Department of Homeland Security reached out to Cage in July 2014 to let him know that the giant fossil may have been illegally smuggled. After investigators looked into the relic, they learned that it was linked to formerly convicted paleontologist Eric Prokopi

The 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus bataar
The 70-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus bataar Byambasuren Byamba-Ochir/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who filed a complaint last week about the skull, referred to Prokopi as a "one-man black market in prehistoric fossils." In 2012, Prokopi pleaded guilty to smuggling a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton from the famed Gobi desert in Mongolia, and was subsequently sentenced to prison. 

The exportation of dinosaur fossils has been illegal in Mongolia since 1924. The Tyrannosaurus bataar is very much like the Tyrannosaurus rex: Both were carnivores when they roamed the planet about 70 million years ago. However, bataar remains have been discovered only in Mongolia, making them extremely rare finds. 

 

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