Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

The moral and legal imperative to return illegally exported fossils

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: The consequences of illegal fossil export.


  1. Smyth, R. S. H., Martill, D. M., Frey, E., Rivera-Sylva, H. E. & Lenz, N. Cretaceous Res. (2020).

  2. Greshko, M. One-of-a-kind dinosaur removed from Brazil sparks backlash, investigation. National Geographic (4 January 2021).

  3. Vogel, G. Chicken-size dino with a furlike mane stirs ethics debate. Science (18 December 2020).

  4. Gibney, E. Nature 507, 20 (2014).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Escobar, H. Author of 4-legged-snake paper defies Brazilian fossil laws. Ciência | Estudos e pesquisas científicas no Estadão Ciência (2015).

  6. Frey, E., Martill, D. M. & Buchy, M.-C. Geol. Soc. Spec. Publ. 217, 65–72 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Frey, E., Martill, D. M. & Buchy, M.-C. Geol. Soc. Spec. Publ. 217, 55–63 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Martill, D. M. Cretaceous Res. 32, 236–243 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Martill, D. M., Cruickshank, A. R. I., Frey, E., Small, P. G. & Clarke, M. J. Geol. Soc. 153, 5–8 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Witton, M. P. Palaeontology 51, 1289–1300 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Salisbury, S. W., Frey, E., Martill, D. M. & Buchy, M.-C. Palaeontographica Abteilung A 270, 3–47 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Decreto-Lei no 4.146, de 4 de março de 1942. Presidência da República (4 March 1942).

  13. Decreto no 98.830, de 15 de janeiro de 1990. Presidência da República (15 January 1990).

  14. Portaria MCT, de 14 de março de 1990, no 55. INPA (14 March 1990).

  15. Pérez Ortega, R. ‘It’s like a second extinction’: Retraction deepens legal and ethical battle over rare dinosaur. Science (29 September 2021).

  16. Dinossauro terópode “Ubirajara”. Sociedade Brasileira de Paleontologia (12 September 2021).

  17. Ac t on the Protection of Cultural Property. Federal Law Gazette (31 July 2021).

  18. SMNK Facebook statement on Ubirajara. figshare (6 October 2021).

  19. SMNK Instagram statement on Ubirajara. (6 October 2021).

  20. Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970. UNESCO (14 November 1970).

  21. Martill, D. M. Geol. Curator 10, 641–649 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  22. Armenteras, D. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 5, 1193–1194 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


N.B.R. acknowledges financial support from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (KI 806/17–1).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Juan C. Cisneros.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Cisneros, J.C., Ghilardi, A.M., Raja, N.B. et al. The moral and legal imperative to return illegally exported fossils. Nat Ecol Evol 6, 2–3 (2022).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing