Eight years ago, Nicolas Cage beat fellow movie star Leonardo DiCaprio in a bidding war on a very ancient, very expensive, very useless object: A dinosaur skull, which he purchased for a cool quarter-million dollars ($276,00, to be exact) at a Beverly Hills auction. Now, Cage will return that skull to the Mongolian government which is, apparently, where it belongs.
In 2007, it was trendy for celebs to spend money on dino bones. The Telegraph reported at the time:
DiCaprio may have lost out last time, but he will have further chances to bid for a dinosaur of his own later this year when both IM Chait, the same Beverley Hills auctioneer, and Bonhams & Butterfields put a mosasaurus on the block… “Dinosaur bones and all sorts of fossils are increasingly hot right now. Hollywood heavy-hitters and the mega-rich types from the Middle East love this stuff,” said Josh Chait, operations director of the family firm. “When you already have a Warhol or a Monet on the wall, you tend to want a change from traditional artwork and people are turning to natural history for that.”
Anyway! Some years after Cage took home the prized tyrannosauras bataar skull, people started wondering how the auctioneers got it in the first place. The Telegraph reported in 2013 that "a dinosaur skull bought by the actor Nicolas Cage is at the heart of an investigation into illicit fossil smuggling," adding, "the skull was obtained by IM Chait from Eric Prokopi, a self-described 'commercial palaeontologist' who pleaded guilty last year to illegally importing fossils from Mongolia and China."
Cage's publicist Alex Schack told the BBC that the Department of Homeland Security alerted Cage in 2014 that the skull may have been sold illegally, and that when they found that it was indeed stolen from Mongolia, Cage said he'd return it. Reuters reports that the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan filed a civil forfeiture last week to get the skull.
Still, he probably shouldn't have spent all that money on a fossil, which should really belong in a museum.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.