Thieves stole a lump of fossilised dinosaur dung from the Natural History Museum in London, it has been revealed.
By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent.
Last Updated: 2:39PM GMT 31 Jan 2009.
When staff at the Natural History Museum noticed that one of their exhibits had disappeared, it seemed reminiscent of the 1970s comedy film One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing.
The thieves, however, must have been disappointed when they realised that what they had smuggled out was not a valuable piece of dinosaur skeleton but a piece of 65-million-year-old fossilised dung.
Details of the theft have been revealed for the first time in a list of specimens that have been stolen or lost from the London museum’s collection over the past five years.
Among the other items taken thieves were 167 scarab beetles originating from South America, and a centipede. Another 25 scarab beetles were stolen from a car in Vienna while they were on loan to a museum in the city.
The three-inch piece of fossilised dinosaur dung, or coprolite as they are known, was stolen while it was secured on display in a clamp in 2006. It is believed to have come from a plant-eating dinosaur known as titanosaurus, which grew to more than 30 feet in length and weighed about 13 tons. Police were informed of the theft but no further action was taken.
A spokesman for the museum said it was impossible to put a value on the dung. Experts said that if it was a proven piece of dinosaur dung it could have been quite valuable.
Professor Richard Lane, director of science at the Natural History Museum, said: “All of the items in the collections are of scientific and national value and many are literally priceless.
“Like works of arts they are completely unique and so cannot be compared to anything else. Consequently it is of great regret when items are stolen or lost.
“It is true that an item of fossilised dinosaur dung was stolen from the Dino Jaws exhibition; one might question what the thief would do with this.”
The museum has more than 3.8 million visitors a year. Since 2004 eight exhibits have been either lost or stolen. In 2005 an entire draw of butterflies was lost while being moved from the museum’s entomology building, and a parcel of 50 mosquitoes lost in the post.
Around 22 conodonts, fossils of extinct eel-like creatures, were lost when a box was knocked over and they were hoovered up.
A stuffed grey squirrel was stolen while on display at the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh in December 2006. Almost exactly a year later a red squirrel was stolen from the same location.