A Chinese dinosaur scientist on Saturday appealed to an auction house in Los Angeles not to auction a rare fossilized dinosaur nest that was smuggled out of China.
Auction house Bonhams and Butterfields is to auction the well-preserved dinosaur nest containing fossil eggs with the embryos exposed on Sunday.
U.S. media reported that the 65 million-year-old dinosaur nest was unearthed in south China's Guangdong Province in 1984.
"It's certainly been smuggled out of China through illegal channels," said Xing Lida, a dinosaur expert with the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Xing, who is also chief editor of www.dinosaurnet.cn, told Xinhua that smuggled fossils cannot be used in research and are banned from auction under international regulations.
It has been reported that the nest contained 22 unhatched eggs arranged in a circular pattern along the edge. Embryonic remains were uncovered in 19 eggs and one egg was removed for study. Some eggs were so well-preserved that the embryo curled inside is visible.
The nest is believed to be that of a raptor. The auction house estimates it will fetch 180,000 to 220,000 U.S. dollars.
Xing said, "It's strange that one egg was removed for study, because it's forbidden to publish articles on smuggled fossils in international academic circles."
He had seen a dinosaur nest with more than 30 eggs in Nanxiong in Guangdong Province, the place where the fossil to be auctioned was found, in early 1990s.
Well-preserved dinosaur embryos were really rare and many Chinese scientists had only seen such fossils in pictures, Xing said.
According to U.S. media, Gerald Grellet-Tinner, a dinosaur expert at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, said such a fossilized nest was a "bonanza" find that could tell scientists a great deal about dinosaur growth and development.
He argued the nest should be housed in a museum in China, where it was discovered, and not in private hands.
"I'm totally outraged," he was reported as saying. "A lot of scientific information will be lost."
The theft and smuggling of fossils was a serious problem in China, Xing said. Smugglers often broke fossils to make them easy to conceal and carry, destroying important scientific information.
He urged the U.S. auction house not to auction the smuggled fossil and return it to China for research.