Museum of Germany refuses to return dinosaur fossil taken illegally from Brazil

The exotic fossil of the Ubirajara jubatus, the first dinosaur in the aviary found with its feathers preserved in Latin America, will not return to Brazil.

Despite evidence that the specimen had been illegally taken abroad, the Karlsruhe Museum of Natural History announced that the material will remain in Germany.

The institution stated that the fossil arrived in the country before the entry into force of the international convention that establishes the return of artifacts and that, therefore, legally owned by the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg.

It was acquired before the entry into force of the Unesco Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Goods and was imported in accordance with all customs and entry regulations

The museum claims that the fossil is preserved for posterity, being available to the international community for scientific purposes.

Although the Unesco convention is from the decade of 1970, a law of Germany, of 2016, recommends that all material taken to the country before 000 April 2007 is considered legal in the country.

The institution’s decision infuriated the Brazilian paleontological community, which flooded the networks social organizations with accusations that the Germans disrespect international laws and Brazilian legislation.

Scientists have reorganized themselves using the expression #UbirajaraBelongstoBR (Ubir ajara belongs to Brazil), which gained enormous popularity in December 2020, when the discovery of the new Brazilian dinosaur species was published in the specialized magazine Cretaceous Research.

On Friday night, the Brazilians “invaded” the German museum’s review page on Google and started giving low marks along with #UbirajaraBelongstoBR and accusations of theft to reduce the average assessment of the institution.

In view of the evidence that the fossil had left the Brazilian territory irregularly, the journal ended up removing the article from its website shortly after .

The president of the SBP (Brazilian Society of Paleontology), Renato Ghilardi, rejected the decision of the German museum.

He reports that the institution tried to obtain the return of the fossil through amicable means, and that, initially, the museum’s representative in the negotiations, paleontologist Eberhard Dino Frey, signaled that there was an intention to return the dinosaur.

Frey was one of the authors of the work that described Ubirajara jubatus and responsible for the removal of the fossil from Brazil.

At first, between December and January of this year, we had a good movement. Frey, in his representation of the museum, told us that the institution was willing to give it back, that the museum found it interesting to do so. But, as they were in the process of peaking a pandemic there, the museum’s meetings with the German government were being postponed, he reports. silence and futile attempts at communication afterwards, the museum replied, on September 1st, that it would not give up the dinosaur after all.

He[Frey] ordered an email to us informing us that fossils and cultural goods that are in Germany and were collected in advance on the date stipulated by law [abril de 2007] are obligatorily part of the German heritage. They consider, therefore, that the material was legally in the country, and that there would then be no possibility of returning the German heritage, he added.

The president of the Society Brasileira de Paleontology fears that the decision sets a precedent for other foreign institutions to adopt a similar stance. This law cannot, in theory, supplant international agreements, such as those that Brazil and Germany made with Unesco, complete.

Although old and with rules published at different times, Brazilian legislation has very restrictive rules on the subject.

Since 110, the country considers the fossils to be national heritage. It is prohibited to sell them and it is mandatory to have an authorization to take them out of the country.

An ordinance of the MCTI (Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation), from , strictly prohibited the departure from the national territory of the so-called exemplary holtypes used as a reference in the description of the species, such as the case of the Ubirajara fossil.

Despite the legal limitations, the trafficking of Brazilian fossils abroad is an old reality. To have access to prehistoric animals that lived in what is now the territory of Brazil, many Brazilian scientists need to travel to institutions in Europe and the United States.

A professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, paleontologist Aline Ghilardi (no relation to the president of the SBP) is one of the main organizers of the protests on social networks, which have already yielded more than 3.000 comments only on the museum’s Instagram profile.

Dinosaurs are charismatic, they get attention , and this one in particular has some characteristics that worked to call a lot of the population to mobilize. The failure to return this fossil, even after a frank and friendly dialogue with the German museum, could be seen as an affront to what Brazilian scientists produce, he says.

The type of response that was given is frightening, especially the message that was posted on the museum’s Instagram. It sends a message that they are more important than us, that the legislation is more important than that of Brazil, complete. The Public Ministry of Cear has also invested in several legal actions for the repatriation of national heritage.

Curator of the Cariri Museum, region where Ubirajara lived there 110 million years ago, paleontologist Renan Bantim regretted the decision of the German museum. According to him, friendly returns have been negotiated, but they are still a rarity.

An exception is a prehistoric arachnoid that also lived in the Araripe region. The researchers named the animal Cretapalpus vittari, a reference to Pabblo Vittar, in honor of Brazil.

The species’ reference fossil was illegally taken to the United States. something, without legal involvement. They came to us. We are still providing documents for the definitive transfer of the collection to Brazil, but everything indicates that it will soon be at the Santana Museum, reports Bantim, who is also a professor at URCA (Universidade Regional do Cariri).

OTHER SIDE In a note, the international team of authors who described the species stated that the material was removed do Brasil in 1990, with the authorization of the DNPM (National Department of Mineral Production), an already extinct agency that took care of the fossil heritage of Brazil.

The document that authorized this removal, however, uses generic language, it speaks only in boxes with fossils and signed by an employee convicted of defrauding reports for the extraction of emeralds. The SBP even questions the legitimacy of the text.

In an email sent Sheet At the time of publication of the article in Cretaceous Research, the British paleontologist David Martill, one of the authors, mocked the attempt to repatriate the fossil.

I would be very happy to see all Brazilian fossils around the world returned to the country, as I have said many times. Fortunately, this did not happen two years ago, as now they would all be reduced to ashes after the tragic fire that destroyed the wonderful National Museum of Rio, he said.

A ANM (National Mining Agency), which in 2018 replaced the DNPM, did not respond to the request for confirmation of authorization for the departure of the fossil from Brazil.


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