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Nicolas Cage and the strange case of the stolen dinosaur skull

The "National Treasure" actor finds himself having to part ways with a fossil illegally smuggled out of another country. He had beaten Leonardo DiCaprio in the bidding war to get it.

Nicolas Cage is short one dinosaur fossil.

Brock Miller/Splash News/Corbis

It sounds more like the plot for one of his movies than a page from his life. Actor Nicolas Cage has reportedly agreed to return a dinosaur skull he owned after it was discovered the cranium of the great beast had been unlawfully brought into the US from Mongolia.

A civil complaint intended to get the skull back, filed by the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, was unsealed just last week. Cage had bought the Tyrannosaurus bataar skull from Beverly Hills, California, gallery I.M. Chait in March 2007 for $276,000 (about £186,030, AU$380,945).

The actor, who received a certificate of authenticity from the gallery, according to his publicist, Alex Schack, was first contacted by the Department of Homeland Security in July 2014, at which time he was informed that the skull might have been stolen. Schack told Reuters Cage is fully cooperating in the matter.

"Cultural artifacts such as this bataar skull represent a part of Mongolian national cultural heritage," Glenn Sorge, acting special agent-in-charge of the New York office of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a statement. "It belongs to the people of Mongolia. These priceless antiquities are not souvenirs to be sold to private collectors or hobbyists."

The Tyrannosaurus bataar (also called Tarbosaurus bataar) was one of the last surviving dinosaurs on Earth when it roamed the Gobi desert in Mongolia in the Late Cretaceous Period, which ended about 66 million years ago. Like its larger cousin, the Tyrannosaurus rex, T. bataar was a carnivore. But bataar is actually a more ancient species than rex. It grew to approximately 40 feet (about 12.2 meters) in length and weighed up to 6 tons. It would have had a large skull, but one that wasn't very heavy due to thin bone structure and spaces for large air pockets.

Cage overbid actor Leonardo DiCaprio for the skull in 2007, according to Reuters. While its loss will certainly put a dent in Cage's collection, the actor likely has a few other treasures to keep him occupied, as he's known for being an avid collector of things. He sold an Action Comics No. 1 in 2011 for just over $2.1 million (about £1.42 million, AU$2.9 million) that features the first appearance of Superman. In some kind of strange karmic twist, that comic had been stolen from his house in 2000 and recovered in April of 2011 when it was found in an abandoned storage locker.

Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.