Peruvian archaeologists displayed more than 400 seized shark teeth, shells and fish fossils as old as 12 million years on Friday, saying customs officials have already made twice the number of such seizures this year than they did in 2006.
Peru's National Culture Institute said fossil trafficking is a growing problem because the items are highly valued in foreign markets. So far this year, customs agents have made 947 fossil seizures, compared to 461 all of last year, Javier Vazquez, director of the institute's recovery department, told The Associated Press.
"Peru is a country rich in fossil beds and we are seeing an increase in the trafficking of this wealth," Vazquez said.
He said some of the artifacts are shipped out of the country in simple packages: The shark teeth displayed Friday at the National Museum in Lima — some of which are in perfect condition — were seized as they were being sent in a nondescript box to the United States. Vazquez did not say exactly where they were being shipped.
Southern Peru is particularly rich in fossils, said institute archaeologist Cecilia Pachas.
"We have the teeth of sharks, large fish — all fossilized — that (people) try to send by air," Pachas said. "We have even confiscated these objects from passengers' bags."
Customs agents say the items are considered "national patrimony" and are not allowed to leave Peru, although there is no penalty attached to the crime.