Federal probe sparks return of illegally imported fossils to Madagascar

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Federal authorities in Detroit this month helped return fossils to Madagascar that were determined to have been illegally imported, officials announced Friday.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations Detroit transferred the two ammonite artifacts on April 4 to Adoghi Pilaza, the diplomatic and consular agent for the Embassy of Madagascar in Washington, D.C., the office said in a statement.

Seven years earlier, HSI Cleveland special agents seized the specimens after investigators found they were illegally imported from China, according to the release.

The special agents met with an expert at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh who conducted a physical examination and chemical test to learn they were fossil ammonites.

"It was determined the fossils were true fossil ammonoids based upon the spiral shape, preservation of the natural shell material (the mineral calcium carbonate) and lobe and saddle suture patterns," ICE officials said Friday.

"Based upon the research and comparison to the (museum) specimens, the fossils are inferred to be from Africa and or Madagascar."

Federal importation and customs laws give HSI the authority to seize cultural property and art brought into the country illegally.

Since 2007, HSI has repatriated more than 15,000 objects to more than 40 countries and institutions.