Fingerprinting Gobi Dinosaurs

A novel tool for countering the illegal trade of Asian fossils

Since their discovery in 1923 by the inimitable Roy Chapman Andrews, the dinosaurs of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert have offered one of the most comprehensive pictures of life at the twilight of the Mesozoic. In the past 25 years, scores of exceptionally preserved skeletons – many of them unusually complete – have been unearthed from across southern Mongolia. Unfortunately, the same fossils have also sparked an explosion of illegal fossil poaching in the country, which are now being sold in an international multi-million dollar black market and at public auction houses. As the painstaking task of repatriating many of these irreplaceable fossils begins, the question of provenance is paramount for both legal and scientific reasons.

In 2016 UNE Palaeontologist Dr Phil Bell and colleagues from around the world began an ambitious project to ‘fingerprint’ the extraordinary dinosaur fossils recovered from the Gobi Desert of Mongolia. To determine the origin of these fossils, innovative and indisputable tools are needed to support legal and scientific assumptions. The development of geochemical fingerprinting is the first multi-disciplinary tool to counter this illegal trend, properly re-assigning poached specimens to their original context.

Fingerprinting Gobi Dinosaurs is an exhibition of field images by Dr Phil Bell whilst on-site in Mongolia. This insight into UNE research opens in the Museum’s Collaborative Learning space Sunday 23rd of July to coincide with the Vice Chancellor’s Community Open Day.