It was supposed to be a key clue in unlocking the mysteries of the evolutionary path of modern man — the Sivapithecus Indicus fossil skull, which was discovered in Pakistan’s Potohar’s plateau, and which went missing in 1996.
Now, the millions-of-years-old fossil skull has mysteriously re-emerged in the University of Arizona in the United States — and the petroleum ministry is pointing fingers at the Director-General (DG) of the Geological Survey of Pakistan (GSP). Imran A Khan was allegedly involved in smuggling the skull of the extinct primate to the US. The GSP remained unaware of the fossil’s disappearance till this year.
Dr Jay Kelly from the University of Arizona confirmed via email that the key fossil was in his possession. Kelly, however, claimed that he ‘borrowed’ it from the GSP.
According to documents available with The Express Tribune, the petroleum ministry has initiated an inquiry against DG GSP Khan for handing over the precious find to Kelly without the knowledge of the ministry. It believes that the skull was smuggled to a foreign country on the pretext of research in return for kickbacks.
Khan, meanwhile, refused to comment despite repeated attempts to contact him. His staff said that the DG was busy in a meeting and therefore could not respond. The ministry is investigating how and when these fossils were sent to US without permission.
Pakistan’s fame in international paleo-anthropological circles has much to do with the discovery of the hominid fossils of the Sivapithecus Indicus in the Potohar Plateau in 1979. The discovery was considered groundbreaking in helping the world reconsider Darwin’s track of the evolutionary path of modern man, and the BBC ended up making a documentary on the event.
The smuggling came to the knowledge of the petroleum ministry for the first time when the DG GSP blamed the GSP assistant director for the missing skull. The assistant director had been granted a US visa on March 15, 2012, but Khan refused to provide a No Objection Certificates (NOC) saying “Mr Munir (the GSP assistant director) has an original fossil skull of the Sivapithecus Indicus with him and unless he does not hand it over to me, I will not issue the NOC for his visit abroad.” Later, the petroleum ministry itself issued an NOC to the assistant director to complete his PhD research work.
Both the assistant director and Khan contacted Kelly on the whereabouts of the skull. On April 23, 2012, Kelly confirmed to the DG GSP that he had the fossil skull. According to the documents available with The Express Tribune, he also confirmed that he borrowed the fossil skull from Khan in 1996, implicating Khan in its disappearance.
The email stated, “As for the loan document, this consists of a single page that I have sent to you I think in 1996, simply stating that I was borrowing the specimen for further preparation and study. I did not prepare a copy of this for myself. If you wish, I can prepare an additional, more formal document stating the same. I can sign this and send it to you if you give me your current address. The specimen will of course be returned to Pakistan when the monograph has been completed.”
(Read: Largest mammal fossils may have been bombed into oblivion)
Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2012.