No, it is not a story borrowed from one of Nicolas Cage’s National Treasure films, although it does appear the actor discovered a special appreciation for rare artifacts while working on the Disney franchise.
According to Reuters, Mr. Cage unknowingly purchased a stolen dinosaur skull in 2007, which he has now agreed to return to the Mongolian government.
The skull, which originally belonged to a Tyrannosaurus bataar, was snatched up at the Beverly Hills gallery I.M. Chait for a hefty price tag of $276,000. Cage had outbid fellow actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio for the rare fossil.
U.S. attorney Preet Bharara filed a civil forfeiture complaint last week in Manhattan. The lawsuit did not name Cage as the purchaser of the skull, but one of the actor’s publicist confirmed his client was the owner.
According to the wire service, Cage has not been accused of any wrongdoing, and agreed to hand over the fossil, after learning it was illegally smuggled into the U.S. by paleontologist Eric Prokopi.
Prokopi pled guilty in 2012 to smuggling a Tyrannosaurus bataar skeleton out of Mongolia’s Gobi desert. He was later sentenced to three months in prison.
Attorney Bharara described Prokopi as a “one-man black market in prehistoric fossils.”
Bharara’s office has been working to return such artifacts to Mongolia since 2012.
Cage was reportedly first notified the skull might be stolen by the Department of Homeland Security in July 2014.
The actor also reportedly owes the IRS millions in back taxes, but still has a taste for collecting rare and unusual artifactss, including albino king cobras, shrunken pigmy heads, European castles, and the Shah of Iran’s Lamborghini.