The Bones

In the wake of the dramatic 2013 court case United States of America vs One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton, Dr. Bolor Minjin, one of Mongolia’s first female paleontologists, travels from her new home in New York City back to the Gobi desert to learn how the dinosaur bones were stolen from one of the richest fossil sites in the world. Her story launches us down the serpentine trail of poached bones around the globe, from the deserts of central Asia and dark alleys of Seoul to dingy motel rooms at the Tucson Gem Show and the backlots of Hollywood where famed paleontologist, Jack Horner sits with Steven Spielberg watching a sneak preview of the final Jurassic Park film. The real-life inspiration for Dr. Alan Grant at the center of the movie, Jack was once Bolor’s teacher and mentor. He now spends his days reaching back into Deep Time attempting to extract knowledge lost to extinction. His dream is to bring dinosaurs back to life. For Jack and Bolor, it makes no sense to own a fossil. By shifting focus away from the bones as human property toward the political and scientific contexts from which they have emerged, each in their own way attempts to change how we understand just what a dinosaur is.  On the other end of the spectrum is François Escuilliei, a French fossil collector and master preparator, known to have boasted “if my mother were alive, I most certainly could sell her.” Moving fluidly between the hardscrabble world of illegally digging up bones in the desert to sipping champagne at high-end auction houses and art galleries, François is a global artist refashioning natural history for the marketplace.   Following the twisting tales of Jack, Bolor and François, we encounter “commercial paleontologists,” high-end art traders, local politicians, poachers, journalists and other players with lucrative stakes in the underground economy of international fossil trading. THE BONES weaves together interlocking stories of people at the center of the international dinosaur bone trade all caught between the demands of commerce and the basic human drive to unlock the most profound mysteries of life.