Dino Black Market Fuels Peasant-Police Combat in China

Kevin Holden Platt in Beijing
for National Geographic News
November 27, 2007

Armed with only tractors and farm tools, Chinese peasants recently attacked police who had come to seize dinosaur bones the farmers had found.

The clash called attention to the rise of a new type of dinosaur hunter in China's fossil-rich countryside: the "peasant paleontologist."

The rebellion also set in motion the first court test of a 2006 Chinese law banning "unauthorized" excavation, possession, sale, and export of dinosaur fossils. Offenders are subject to lengthy prison terms or, in serious cases, the death penalty.

The seven defendants—peasants from Shaping village in central Henan Province—are accused of forcibly resisting government orders to hand over a cache of hundred-million-year-old dinosaur bones they discovered.

(See a map of China.)

Dinosaur Protection Squad

Some Shaping villagers have donated their fossil finds to scientists. But others have resisted, even though officials have pasted posters throughout Shaping announcing the ban on the possession and sale of dinosaur relics.

Officials eventually tried to seize all dinosaur fossils from the villagers, without offering any compensation.

According to court documents made public on China's government-run judicial news portal, www.chinacourt.org, the seven defendants helped organize a "Dinosaur Protection Squad" to safeguard Shaping's fossils against seizure.

Civilian sentinels patrolled the perimeter of the village around the clock. When sentries spotted police or local officials who aimed to seize the fossils, they set off fireworks to alert the community, China Court reported.

When a contingent of government and security officials attempted to enter Shaping in March, the protection squad deployed villagers as a human barricade and even seized some of the police cars.

When more officials arrived a week later, the villagers fought back with their farm equipment.

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