DINOSAUR FOSSIL SITES IN CHINA
130-million-year-old mammals found in ChinaChina has a number of areas that are rich in dinosaurs bones. Many of the most important discoveries in recent years in the dinosaur field have come from China. Dinosaur bones are so plentiful in the Yunnan province that farmers have used them to make pigpens.
In December 2008, Chinese scientists said they had discovered the world’s largest dinosaur fossil site in the eastern province of Shandong. More than 7,600 fossils had been taken from a 300-meter-long pit over seven months near Zhucheng. Known locally as China’s Dinosaur City, Zhucheng has yielded fossils in about 30 sites.
Xu Xing of Beijing’s Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology is on of the leading dinosaur scientists in China He has been called a rock star among dinosaur-hunters. Despite having no initial interest in palaeontology, he has discovered more than 30 species, including the four-winged Microraptor, Yutyrannus huali, a feather-covered early Tyrannosaur and Dilong and Guanlong — early tyrannosaurs covered in simple fuzz. Like most other feathered dinosaurs, these animals were small. Dilong was the size of a large dog, and Microraptor the size of a chicken. [Source: Ed Yong, Discover, April 4, 2012]
Many Chinese used to believe the dinosaur bones came from dragons not dinosaurs. Dragons are symbols of good luck and the consumption of pulverized "dragon" bones was believed to make a man strong and bring him good luck and were used as a traditional Chinese medicine for stomach ailments. Many good dinosaur bones have been pulverized into medicines. Scientists are trying to convince farmers to turn in their bones to palaeontologists not Chinese medicine traders.
Heyuan city in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong calls itself the "Home of Dinosaurs." Its museum won a Guinness World Record for the world's largest collection of dinosaur eggs in a museum in 2004. Nearly 17,000 dinosaur eggs have been uncovered in the city since the first group of fossils was found in 1996 by children playing at a construction site. “Most of the eggs in the museum's existing collection belong to oviraptorid and duck-billed dinosaurs, which roamed the earth 89 million years ago. In 2015 the museum increased its collection after construction workers unearthed 43 fossilized dinosaur eggs, 19 of them intact, during road repair work in Heyuan and the eggs were given to museum 43 fossilized dinosaur eggs found. The largest egg measured as 13 centimeters (5 inches) in diameter. [Source: Naomi Ng, CNN. April 22, 2015]
See Separate Articles: FEATHERED BIRD-LIKE DINOSAURS, EARLY BIRDS AND PTEROSAURS FROM CHINA factsanddetails.com ; PREHISTORIC MAMMALS IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; FOSSIL SITES IN CHINA: Chengjiang Fossil Site See KUNMING AREA AND SHILIN (STONE FOREST) THERE factsanddetails.com; Guizhou Triassic Fossil Sites See DINOSAURS, MAOTAI AND THE DANXIA AREAS OF GUIZHOU factsanddetails.com; Expert: Meng Jin of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City
A paleological site near the village of Beipiao in the Yuxian Formation in Liaoning Province, about 100 miles northeast of Beijing, is one of the world’s riches site for remains of dinosaurs and dinosaur-age creatures. It has yielded hundreds of major fossil finds. The site was discovered by a local farmer who found a fossil of the primitive bird and realized the significance of his find and split the fossil in half and gave them to rival scientific institutions n Beijing and Nanjing. [Source: Cliff Tarpy, National Geographic, August 2005]
Many of the fossils are from the Mesozoic era between 130 million and 110 million years ago — a period marked by an extraordinary diversification of life forms, including dinosaurs, mammal, birds and flowering plants. At the time the fossils were created the region was covered by lakes and contained a diverse assortment of animals and plant life.
Among the other dinosaur species found in Liaoning are the “Hyphalosaurus lingyuanensis”, a fish-eating aquatic dinosaur about four feet long with a small head, needlelike teeth and a bulbous nose that allowed it stay submerged under the water; and the “haopterus gracilis”, a flying dinosaur with a 4½-foot wingspan and and a slender snout that suggested it preyed on fish.
Liaoning Fossils See LIAONING PROVINCE: DINOSAURS AND NEOLITHIC CULTURES NOT FAR FROM BEIJING factsanddetails.com
Fossils in Guizhou and the Origins of Life
In China's Guizhou Province, a thin band of rock crowded with fossils smaller than poppy seeds may reveal the origin of all the animals that ever lived. Douglas Fox wrote in Discover: For decades the Chinese mined a phosphorus-rich layer of rock that winds through the hillsides of Guizhou Province and used it to make fertilizer for rice paddies. Then, in the 1980s, several geologists noticed fossils embedded in that layer, which they called the Doushantuo Formation. Viewed under a microscope, the fossils were exquisite—spherical and segmented on their surface, like a blackberry. Most people believed they were ancient algae. [Source: Douglas Fox, Discover, October 25, 2012]
“Entranced by the forms, a paleontology student named Shuhai Xiao brought several hundred pounds of the rock to Harvard while working on his Ph.D. there in the 1990s. He noticed that the fossils, though all the same size, consisted of different numbers of cells: one, two, four, eight, and so on, up to around 1,000, roughly doubling with each increase. Xiao knew that it was unusual for a mature organism to stay the same size while undergoing successive rounds of cell division. Animal embryos, however, do so regularly. Xiao compared the fossils with modern embryos and concluded that he was looking not at algae but at something far more breathtaking: embryos of some of the first animals on Earth.
“Xiao’s discovery illuminated a long-standing mystery. All major groups of animals—an entire kingdom of multicellular life that today includes insects, worms, shellfish, starfish, sea anemones, coral, jellyfish, and vertebrates like us—bloomed suddenly in the fossil record during an evolutionary extravaganza known as the Cambrian explosion, which occurred 530 million years ago. But genetic studies of modern animals had suggested that all of these creatures evolved from a single-celled ancestor that lived at least 100 million years before that, leaving a huge gap between the estimated origin of animals and the appearance of the earliest known animal fossils. Xiao’s embryos helped fill that gap.
For the complete article from which this much of the material here is derived see How Life Got Complicated discovermagazine.com
Ichthyosaur Found with a Similar-Sized Dinosaur in Its Stomach
In August 2020, scientists announced that had found an Ichthyosaurus with another dinosaur of almost equal size in its stomach. Will Dunham of Reuters wrote: In a warm shallow sea about 240 million years ago in what is now southwestern China, a large dolphin-like marine reptile attacked and swallowed an almost equally big lizard-like marine reptile in a savage encounter that left both beasts dead. Scientists described a fossil unearthed in China's Guizhou Province that reveals this Triassic Period drama in exceptional detail and changes the understanding of "megapredation" in prehistoric seas. While it long has been presumed that large apex predators preyed upon other big animals — megapredation is defined as feeding on prey of human size or larger — the Chinese fossil represents the first direct evidence of it, as demonstrated by a prehistoric animal's stomach contents.[Source: Will Dunham, Reuters, August 21, 2020]
“The fossil shows the skeleton of a 15-foot-long (5 meters) Guizhouichthyosaurus, a type of marine reptile called an ichthyosaur. Its body design married elements of a dolphin and a tiger shark though it lacked a dorsal fin, also boasting four strong flippers and a mouth full of powerful but blunt teeth. Inside its stomach was the torso of a 12-foot-long (4 meters) Xinpusaurus, a type of marine reptile called an a thalattosaur. Its body design resembled a komodo dragon with four paddling limbs and teeth equipped for crushing shells. The Xinpusaurus was beheaded in the melee and its tail severed. “Nobody was there to film it," but it is possible to interpret what may have occurred between the two animals, said paleobiologist and study co-author Ryosuke Motani of the University of California, Davis.
“The Guizhouichthyosaurus literally may have bitten off more than it could chew. “The prey is lighter than the predator but its resistance must have been fierce," Motani said. "The predator probably damaged its neck to some extent while subduing the prey. Then it took the head and tail of the prey off through jerking and twisting, and swallowed the trunk using inertia and gravity."
“Motani added, "These activities may have expanded the damage of the neck to the point it was fatal. The neck vertebral columns of these ichthyosaurs are quite narrow and once they could not hold the skull in place anymore, the predator could not breathe. Soon, it died not far from the site of the predation, where the detached tail of the prey lay."
“The fossil bore evidence of this broken neck. The prey in the stomach showed little signs of digestion, indicating the ichthyosaur died soon after swallowing it. It is among the more dramatic fossils on record, joining others such as one showing the Cretaceous Period dinosaurs Velociraptor and Protoceratops locked in combat and another of the large Cretaceous fish Xiphactinus that had swallowed whole another sizeable fish.
“Guizhouichthyosaurus was the largest-known marine predator of its time, about 10 million years before dinosaurs appeared. Its teeth, however, were not the type thought to be needed for megapredation: blunt rather than having cutting edges for slicing flesh. “Its teeth look like they are good for grasping squids. So, it was a surprise to find such large prey," said Peking University paleontologist Da-Yong Jiang, lead author of the research published in the journal iScience. Motani noted that crocodilians also have blunt teeth and attack large prey. “Megapredation," Motani said, "was probably more common than we used to think."
T-Rexes from China
In February 2006, fossils of the oldest known ancestor of the Tyrannosaurus Rex was announced in the British journal Nature. Found in badlands featured in the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, the fossils were dated to 160 million years ago, 90 million years before T. Rex. Named “Guanlong Wucaii” and considerably small than a T. rex, the dinosaur stood about a meter tall at the hip, measures three meters from head to tail, had wing-like arms and a crest on its head.
“Dilong paradoxus”, a small tyrannosaur that lived 125 million, long before Tyrannosaurs rex, had a downy covering of protofeathers, hair like features that probably developed for insulation and were the precursors of feathers. Found in Liaoning, Dilong paradoxus measured about 1.6 meters from head to tail and had longer and stronger arms in proportion to its body than the Tyrannosaurus rex. Its name means “paradoxical emperor dragon.”
A number of small dinosaur fossils found in the Jungar Basin, an area of Gobi Desert badlands in northwest China and dated to a period between 165 million and 155 million years ago, suggests that that era was an extraordinary period in which numerous small dinosaurs evolved and diversified and produced creatures that appear to be miniature versions of the well known dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops that would later dominate the dinosaur era. Many of the well-preserved specimens died after being caught in wet volcanic sand that trapped them.
In September 2009, University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno announced that his team had found a relatively small ancestor of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. The 2.75-meter-long dinosaur, dubbed Raptorex kreigsteini, weighed 60 kilograms and was nearly 100 times smaller than a full-size T-Rex but had a nearly identical structure — big head, large leg muscles and feet and a tiny arms. It lived 125 million years ago, about 40 million years before the heyday of the T-Rex.
In April 2011, scientists announced in the journal Cretaceous Research, the discovery of previously unknown predator in China similar to a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Dubbed Zhuchengtyrannus magnus, or "tyrant from Zhucheng," after the spot in China’s Shandong Province where it was discovered, the carnivorous theropod is among the largest in its family ever found. It measured 11 meters (36 feet) from head to tail, stood four meters (13 feet) tall, and weighed in at six tons. [Source: AFP]
"It can be distinguished from other tyrannosourines by a combination of unique features in the skull not seen in any other theropods," David Hone, a professor at University College Dublin and lead author of the study told AFP. Palaeontologists only had a partial jaw bone and part of the skull to work with, so it was difficult to gauge the creatures exact size. "But the bones we have are just a few centimeters smaller than the equivalent ones in the largest T. rex specimen, so there is no doubt that Zhuchengtyrannus was huge," Hone said.
The Shandong site where the new dinosaur was found, along with nearby sites, boasts one of the highest concentrations of dinosaur remains anywhere in the world. Scientists speculate that the area is rich in fossils because it was a flood plain.
Feathered Tyrannosaurs from China
In 2012, the fames paleontologist Xu Xing announced the discovery of Yutyrannus huali, an early version of Tyrannosaurus rex, clad in long, fuzzy filaments. “This is a tremendously important fossil. Paleontologists have been waiting for a gigantic feathered theropod to turn up for some time,” says Lindsay Zanno from the Field Museum. Larry Witmer from Ohio University, agrees. “The big thing is the one-two punch of being huge AND feathered,” he says. [Source: Ed Yong, Discover, April 4, 2012]
The name Yutyrannus huali is a mix of Mandarin and Latin that means “beautiful feathered tyrant”. According to Discover magazine: Its existence re-opens a debate about whether the iconic T.rex might have been covered in feathers.” Unlike most other feathered dinosaurs, which were small, the size of chickens or dogs, Yutyrannus was a good sized creature. “It weighed in at 1,400 kilograms (3,100 pounds), and was at least 7 or 8 meters in length. That’s 40 times bigger than Beipiaosaurus, the previous record-holder for largest feathered dinosaur (and another Xu discovery).
“Xu found three skeletons of the new creature in China’s Liaoning Province. Judging by the size and the state of their bones, one of them was an adult, and the others were a decade or so younger. Except for one missing tail, they are almost complete, and in very good condition. That alone is cause for celebration. Dinosaur-hunters are often forced to describe new species based on tantalising fragments from a single skeleton; three complete ones is a jackpot.
“All three specimens had long 15-centimeter feathers. Each is unevenly covered, but between the three skeletons, it’s likely that Yutyrannus was feathered from head to toe. These aren’t the flattened vanes that help most modern birds to fly. At this stage of their evolution, feathers were simply long filaments, better suited for insulation or displaying to peers, and similar to the plumes of today’s flightless emus and cassowaries.
“When the tyrannosaurs first appeared on the scene in the middle of the Jurassic period, they were small animals, just over a meter in length and covered in dino-fuzz. “The evidence has been mounting that the big tyrant dinosaurs were descendants of fuzzy dinosaurs, and quite possibly fuzzy themselves,” says Tom Holtz Jr from the University of Maryland.
“The tyrants we know and love only appeared at the very end of the Cretaceous. By that time, they had developed many special traits including teeth like “knife-edged bananas”, huge hips, running feet, tiny forearms, and massive bone-crushing skulls. And they had lost their feathers, or so we thought. “The assumption has been that T. rex and its gigantic kin were scaly, not feathery, and there is some (rather sketchy) fossil evidence that this might be true,” says Witmer.
“The idea also made sense because large mammals, like elephants and rhinos, are virtually hairless. Their huge bodies lose heat very slowly, and they don’t need the insulation that their smaller cousins do. If super-sized mammals lost their fur, it stands to reason that super-sized tyrannosaurs lost their feathers. Yutyrannus shows that this isn’t necessarily true.
“Xu speculates that Yutyrannus’s feathers might have been a winter coat. While most giant tyrannosaurs enjoyed warm climates during the late Cretaceous, Yutyrannus lived at a time when the average yearly temperature was a nippy 10 degrees Celsius. Maybe it was the tyrannosaur equivalent of woolly mammoths and woolly rhinos, whose shaggy coats protected them during the Ice Age. “The idea of woolly tyrannosaurs stalking colder climates in the Cretaceous is kinda mind-blowing,” says Witmer.
“So could T.rex also have been covered in feathers? Paul Sereno from the University of Chicago thinks so. “In my lab, I have a T. rex fossil that shows the beast did not have scales,” he says. “But it’s only in China that we have the opportunity to see evidence of what replaced scales — feathers! Admittedly, there’s no direct evidence for a feathery T.rex yet. “[Yutyrannus] doesn’t put the nail in the coffin on the debate over the body covering of T.rex, but it definitely weakens the argument that the tyrant-king couldn’t have had feathers,” says Zanno.
“The problem is that none of the large tyrants was found in the right conditions. “Most T. rex skeletons were found buried in sandstone or siltstone. Both sand and silt are too coarse to record the presence of feathers even when they are there,” says Holtz. “But Yutyrannus was found in extremely fine sediments derived from volcanic ash and deposited in very still water: the perfect condition for preserving feathers.” Perhaps somewhere, there’s a fuzzy T.rex that died in just the right conditions and is waiting to be found
Massive Sauropods and Dinosaurs with Webbed Feet and Spikes on Their Shoulders
In August 2021, paleontologists announced that had dug up two new giant dinosaur species — the first of their kind in China in the Turpan-Hami Basin region in Xinjiang in nrothwest China. The researchers, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and National Museum of Brazil, wrote in a study published in August 2021 in Scientific Reports that they found fossil fragments of rib cages and spinal vertebrae belonging to two new species, which they've named Silutitan sinensis and Hamititan xinjiangensis. [Source: Catherine Garcia, The Week, August 17, 2021, 2:03 PM
The Week reported: “The species are part of the sauropod family, meaning they were herbivores who had long necks and were the largest animals to ever roam the planet. It's estimated that the Silutitan was more than 20 meters (65 feet) long and the Hamititan was more than 17 meters (55 feet) long. The fossils date back 120 to 130 million years ago, during the early Cretaceous period.
A group of fossils found in China in 1983 suggests the early dinosaurs took the water not long after they took to the skies. Five specimens of a dinosaur called “Gansus yumenis”, dated to 110 million years, indicate they had webbed feet and other features found on ducks. Gansus also had feathers and was regarded as an early ancestor of modern birds.
The Tuojiangosaurus lived in China 161 million to 155 million years ago. According to National Geographic: With a thorny tail and rows of bony plates along its back, Tuojiangosaurus, like its better known cousin Stegosaurus, resembles a Jurassic tank. What grants this ponderous Chinese herbivore admission to the ranks of the truly bizarre, however, is the long, tapering spike thrusting out from each shoulder. [Source: National Geographic]
“The shoulder spikes would have helped protect its vulnerable flanks, which would have been right at the level of an attacking allosaur,” says University of Maryland paleontologist Thomas Holtz. As for the plates on its back, their purpose is a matter of much debate, says Susannah Maidment, a paleontologist at Cambridge University.
Early armored dinosaurs were covered with small scutes to protect against a predator’s bite, a trait passed on more or less unchanged to some of their descendants.But in others such as Tuojiangosaurus, the scutes gave way to plates along the backbone, which perhaps made the animal look bigger, but offered little protection. A large theropod, says Maidment, would have been able to chomp through them “like potato chips.”
Super Well-Preserved 70-Million-Year-Old Theropod Baby
In December 2021, scientists announced that had found a really well-preserved dinosaur embryo curled up in its fossilized egg in southeastern China. The Cretaceous-Era fossil, estimated to be between 72 million and 66 million years old, belonged to an oviraptorosaur — a beaked, toothless and omnivorous theropod that fed primarily on plants — researchers said in an article published the journal iScience. The embryo was 27 centimeters (11 inches) long from head to tail and estimated to be 2-3 meters (79-118 inches) long if had lived to adulthood. Theropods are two-legged dinosaurs. They include the Tyrannosaurus rex, spinosaurus and velociraptor and others. Modern birds are direct descendants of theropods.[Source: Carl Samson, NextShark, December 23, 2021]
The embryo was close to hatching as evidenced by its “tucking” posture, a behavior seen in modern birds. Chicks preparing to hatch tuck their heads under their right wing for stability as they crack the shell with their beak. Due to its complete structure, the fossil turned out to be one of the best dinosaur embryos found in history, the researchers told AFP. They called the creature “Baby Yingliang” after Yingliang Stone Nature History Museum, its current location. “This skeleton is not only complete from the tip of the snout to the end of its tail; it is curled in a life pose within its egg as if the animal died just yesterday,” study co-author Darla Zelenitsky, an assistant professor of paleontology at the University of Calgary, told Live Science.
Lead author Waisum Ma, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Birmingham, said dinosaur embryos are among the rarest fossils. Most non-avian embryos are also incomplete, with bones separated at the joints. “We are very excited about the discovery of ‘Baby Yingliang’ — it is preserved in a great condition and helps us answer a lot of questions about dinosaur growth and reproduction with it,” Ma said. “It is interesting to see this dinosaur embryo and a chicken embryo pose in a similar way inside the egg, which possibly indicates similar prehatching behaviours.” The researchers said the embryo was found in Jiangxi province and acquired by Liang Liu, director of a Chinese stone company called Yingliang Group, in 2000. It was stored and forgotten until museum staff found it some 10 years later, during the construction of Yingliang Stone Nature History Museum, according to CNN.
Looted Dinosaur Fossils and Fakes from China
The looting of dinosaur fossils is a problem as it is with ancient artifacts and treasures, especially as the interest in dinosaurs and the value of their fossils has risen. Sometimes the money involved is quite big. An unusually-well-preserved, 65-million-year-old dinosaur nest found in Guangdong in 1984 was sold for $420,000 at an auction in 2006. The Liaoning site is so rich and the fossils are so valuable that guards have been hired to keep away thieves who sell the fossils illegally to collectors. The theft of fossils is a serious problem and a temptation for any peasant in the area because of the large amount of money they bring in.
The laws regarding the fossil trade are confusing and poorly enforced. Places like the Lingyuuan Paleontology Fossil Museum openly sell framed fossils for big stacks of cash. At the Linguan Prehistoric Fossil Protectorate, poachers roam freely, discarding pieces of rock like the tailings from mines. Often times the scientists are the ones who looked upon with scorn by local people because in their eyes the scientists loot treasurers that the local people could sell.
In September 2009, US customs officials turned over to China today fossils dating from as early as 100 million years ago that included bones of a sabre-toothed cat, a partial skull of a dinosaur called a Psittacosaurus lujiatunesis and eggs of several other dinosaurs. The undocumented relics had been shipped in two loads and were confiscated by customs agents in Chicago and Richmond, Virginia, the US homeland security department said. [Source: AP, The Guardian, September 14, 2009]
Fakes are also a problem. Richard Conniff wrote in Smithsonian magazine: “Lu Juchang, a paleontologist from the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, picked up a specimen from the floor and, pointing to different parts of the anatomy, said, “This part is real, this part is not.” To me, the difference was indiscernible, but to Lu’s eye, it leapt out: “I think someone went to find another specimen, cut a groove,” and cemented in a suitable-looking wing bone. The museum, he said, would have a preparator remove the fake parts and preserve what’s authentic. This kind of forgery is routine, and only a handful of Chinese experts can spot it with the naked eye. Other researchers rely on ultraviolet light, which reflects the light differently from fake and authentic sections of the same slab.[Source: Richard Conniff, Smithsonian magazine, May 2018]
Dinosaur Fossil Trade in China
In some places Chinese farmers recklessly swing pick axes into rock slabs that contain fossils of prehistoric birds and fish and sell them to traders who doctor the fossils to increase their value. Even if the fossils are recovered their scientific value has already been seriously compromised. The Chinese paleontologist Xu Xing told National Geographic, “If it isn’t collect right, a fossil loses its context — the layer it was found in and its relationship to other fossils.”
Chaoyang is a drab Chinese city with dusty streets; in its darker corners it's reminiscent of gritty 19th-century American coal-mining towns. But to fossil collectors, Chaoyang is a paradise, only a one-hour drive from some of the Yixian Formation's most productive beds. Richard Stone wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “One street is lined with shops selling yuhuashi, or fish fossils. Framed fossils embedded in shale, often in mirror-image pairs, can be had for a dollar or two. A popular item is a mosaic in which a few dozen small slabs form a map of China; fossil fish appear to swim toward the capital, Beijing (and no map is complete without a fish representing Taiwan). Merchants sell fossilized insects, crustaceans and plants. Occasionally, despite laws that forbid trade in fossils of scientific value, less scrupulous dealers have been known to sell dinosaur fossils. The most important specimens, Zhou says, "are not discovered by scientists at the city's fossil shops, but at the homes of the dealers or farmers who dug them." Most of the stock in the fossil shops comes from farmers who hack away at fossil beds when they aren't tending their fields. A tiny well-preserved fish specimen can yield its finder the equivalent of 25 cents, enough for a hot meal. A feathered dinosaur can earn several thousand dollars, a year's income or more. Destructive as it is to the fossil beds, this paleo economy has helped rewrite prehistory.” [Source: Richard Stone, Smithsonian magazine, December 2010]
Liaoning isn’t the only place fossils are being taken. Peasants in the Henan province are reportedly selling fossilized dinosaur eggs to illegal dinosaur egg traffickers for between $25 and $35 a piece. In The Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, an area rich in fossils of large mammals, members of the Hui minority spend all the time they can digging for bones, One man, who found a large skull of a 15 million-year-old elephant after digging a 500-meter long tunnel, told the New York Times he hoped to sell it to a museum or a collector for $4,000 to $6,000. He said he was able to distinguish bones from white rocks by taste.
Consequences of the Dinosaur Fossil Trade in China
Richard Conniff wrote in Smithsonian magazine: The way fossils get collected in Liaoning also jeopardizes research possibilities. Jingmai O’Connor, an American paleontologist at Beijing’s Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) says it’s because it has become too difficult to deal with provincial bureaucrats, who may be hoping to capitalize on the fossil trade themselves. Instead, an army of untrained farmers does much of the digging. In the process, the farmers typically destroy the excavation site, without recording such basic data as the exact location of a dig and the depth, or stratigraphic layer, at which they found a specimen. Unspectacular invertebrate fossils, which provide clues to a specimen’s date, get cast aside as worthless. [Source: Richard Conniff, Smithsonian magazine, May 2018]
“As a result, professional paleontologists may be able to measure and describe hundreds of different Confuciusornis, a crow-sized bird from the Early Cretaceous. But they have no way to determine whether individual specimens lived side by side or millions of years apart, says Luis Chiappe, who directs the Dinosaur Institute at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. That makes it impossible to track the evolution of different traits — for instance, Confuciusornis’ toothless modern bird beak — over time.
Some great discoveries have come from fossils found by farmers as well as some dodgy ones. Ian Sample wrote in The Guardian: ““It is not uncommon for scientists to work with fossil dealers, but it can be a risky business. Unless experts can confirm where a fossil came from, it can be impossible to gauge their age. The high value of exotic fossils has led to a flood of fakes onto the market that have duped scientists in the past. In 2009, researchers retracted a paper that claimed cheetahs originated in China, after the fossil they studied was found to be glued together from less interesting remains. [Source:Ian Sample, The Guardian, May 29, 2013]
Image Sources: Chinese Academy of Sciences ; Asia Obscura
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated July 2022