The Netherlands Wants France to Return a Mosasaurus Fossil That Was Seized in 1794

The fossil in question.

Credit: NOS/Joris van Poppel

The Natural History Museum in the Dutch city of Maastricht has requested that France return an 18th-century mosasaurus skull taken during the 1794 Siege of Maastricht in the French Revolutionary Wars.

As the Dutch news site RTL reports, the musuem has called on the Dutch government to make a formal restitution appeal to France to repatriate the fossil they are calling the “Tutankhamun of paleontology.”

The mosasaurus skull in question has resided at France’s National Museum of Natural History since 1794.

Known as the “Mosasaurus hoffmanni,” French forces claimed the exceptionally preserved skull as spoils of war.

Maastricht briefly regained custody in 2009 when the French museum lent it for a temporary exhibit in the Netherlands.

This is not the first attempt to bring the fossil back to Maastricht.

Several attempts were also made to get it back between 1814 and 1827, and Maastricht resident and former Dutch politician Maxime Verhagen made similar attempts at the European Parliament during the 1990s.

Since then, several fossils of a mosasaurus have been discovered in Maastricht, in 1998, in 2012 and 2015.

In 1764, the earliest fossil of a Mosasaurus was unearthed at a chalk quarry close to Maastricht; it consisted of a skull that was originally mistaken for that of a whale.

In fact, Mosasaurus actually means “lizard of the Meuse River,” which is the main river that runs through Maastricht, which helps explain why the city is so keen to get the fossil back.

What were Mosasaurs?

Mosasaurs were aquatic lizards that inhabited oceans worldwide during the Late Cretaceous period 65-70 million years ago.

Today, over 100 types of mosasaurs have been identified globally.

“The mosasaurus is our reference piece for an entire species — on par with the significance of Tutankhamun’s burial artifacts to Egyptian archaeology,” said museum director Wim Hupperetz in a statement.

“As the Netherlands pursues repatriations of cultural artifacts taken from other nations, we ask France to reciprocate for treasures that were removed from Dutch hands against their will during wartime occupation.”

Parisian authorities currently label the mosasaurus installation as “stolen artwork.” The French museum has declined requests for permanent transfer thus far.

Hupperetz and Maastricht civic leaders will meet with Dutch cultural ministry officials this week to coordinate an official appeal to France.