Nic Cage’s $276,000 Tyrannosaurus Skull Might be Illegal

Celebrities often have to list their assets in bankruptcy cases, which can give us incredible information, like the time we heard about Gary Busey’s old surfboard and collection of tambourines and moccasins (the shoes, not the snakes). Likewise, back when Nic Cage was having money troubles, one of the most oft-used examples of his wasteful ways was a $276,000 dinosaur skull, to go along with other extravagances such as a pair of albino king cobras, a wildly overpriced Lamborghini, two castles, two islands, and a veritable menagerie of lizards and exotic pets.

Now it turns out that the dinosaur skull, which Cage bought in a heated auction with Leonardo DiCaprio (I swear to God I did not make this part up), might be illegal.

The 67-million-year-old skull of a Tyrannosaurus bataar, a close relative of the T rex, was bought by Cage in 2007 at an auction in California. By the time the auctioneer brought down his gavel, Cage had outbid fellow actor Leonardo DiCaprio by phone, paying $276,000 for what The Telegraph described at the time as a ferocious-looking addition to his fossil collection”.

“Hey, but enough about my ex-wives, ha ch-cha cha cha.”

However, The Telegraph has now discovered the skull was obtained by IM Chait – an auction house in Beverly Hills – from Eric Prokopi, a self-described “commercial palaeontologist” who pleaded guilty last year to illegally importing fossils from Mongolia and China.

Prokopi – who was arrested last October after selling a huge skeleton of a T bataar for $1 million – is now facing up to 17 years in prison.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement division (ICE), which is now tracking the provenance of other fossils sold by Prokopi, could seize Cage’s skull as part of their investigation.

Good luck, have you seen the size of that thing? You’d have to cut it in threes just to fit it on a flatbed. Ohhh, you mean the dinosaur skull…

The Gobi desert, which includes an expanse of sandstone known as the Nemegt Formation, one of the top two dinosaur sites in the world, is plagued with looters who descend on sites often identified by legitimate palaeontologists and divest them of any bones they think valuable. The looters then sell the fossils to middle men who arrange for them to be smuggled out of the country to Europe, America, Japan and other parts of the world where they’re sold at auction houses, antique fairs or fossil shows, or over the internet. [Telegraph]

A dinosaur smuggling ring? I’m not a very good artist, but if someone could replace the bullets in this poster with tiny Tyrannosaurus skulls, I think we’ve got ourselves a movie.

Is the title “The Bone Collector” still available? I certainly don’t remember any films ever having that name. Starring Jackie Chan as the local fixer.

[poster for IMPA, banner image via Getty]