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September 15, 2009

News Article: WAToday.com.au

US Customs officials have handed back to China confiscated fossils dating from as early as 100 million years ago, including bones of a saber-toothed cat and a partial skull of a dinosaur called Psittacosaurus lujiatunesis.

The undocumented relics had been shipped in two loads and were confiscated by customs agents in Chicago, Illinois, and Richmond, Virginia, the Homeland Security Department said.

A department announcement said the fossils were found during routine inspection of arriving cargoes.

Some were suspected of being intentionally brought in violation of US import laws, the department said.

John Morton, an assistant secretary of Homeland Security, said "the attempt to remove them from China ran up against a network of national and international customs laws that are in place to protect against the theft of cultural property.

"We are pleased to return them to their rightful owners, the people of China."

Experts at Chicago's Field Museum said the dinosaur fossils confiscated there date from 100 million years ago.

Psittacosaurus was a small, two-legged dinosaur, less than two metres long, with a distinctive skull that had a prominent parrot-like beak and high nostrils.

Also among the seized fossils were 24 fossilised dinosaur eggs, which were authenticated by experts from the Virginia Museum of Natural History to date from about 60 million years ago.

The contraband fossils were handed over to China in a ceremony at the Chinese Embassy in Washington.

The embassy's deputy chief of mission, Xie Feng, expressed gratitude to the US government.

"In recent years, China and the US have developed close co-operation in law enforcement and made steady progress and prominent achievements, particularly in the fields as counterterrorism, drug enforcement as well as combating other transnational crimes," Xie said.

Homeland Security said US Customs officers found the first cache of fossils in three parcels at the Chicago O'Hare International Mail Facility in December 2006 and October 2007.

The parcels were confiscated after X-ray images did not match the declared contents.

The Chinese Consulate in Chicago determined the fossils were cultural relics that should not have been exported.

The Ministry of Land and Resources in China requested that they be returned, and the items were seized.

Chinese officials are being sent to the United States to escort the fossils back to China.

© 2012 AP

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