Some priceless prehistoric fossils were returned to the government of China Wednesday during a ceremony at the Chinese embassy in Washington.
The fossils, almost 100 of them, were express mailed into the United States. Customs and Border Protection Officers at O'Hare Airport spotted the illegal items and seized them.
Specialists at the Field Museum in Chicago confirmed the CBP’s suspicions. The scientists said the fossils are approximately 525 million years old.
China considers these fossils cultural relics, which are not to be exported without proper written certification. Not only was Chinese law violated in the improper importing of these fossils, but international law as well, said officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Although relatively inexpensive in terms of fossil trade, they are priceless to the scientific community," said John Morton, assistant secretary of homeland security for ICE.
The fossils look something like etchings in small stone slabs. They were labeled as stones, and that’s partly what caught the officer’s eye, said Pat Reilly, Public Offairs Officer for ICE.
“Our officers and agents are both trained in spotting this kind of antiquity," he said. "They are also aware of patterns of black market practice.”
The criminal investigation into the sale of the fossils is still under way.