Home About me Publications Fieldwork TV/Media Links
Early Cretaceous -Mongolia

In September 2007 I took part in fieldwork in Mongolia. This was a joint project between the Museum of the Rockies and the Institute for the study of Mongolian Dinosaurs (IMD). For about a century, it has been common for foreign research teams to visit Mongolia, taking the specimens back to their own countries for study, but we were here for something different. Based out of Ulaan Bataar, the newly created IMD aims to promote research on Mongolian palaeontology being conducted by Mongolian scientists. You can read about this initiative in this news release.

On this trip we were looking at Early Cretaceous rocks exposed in the southern Gobi desert. Here we were planning on collecting specimens of the small dinosaur Psittacosaurus. These are being studied by Dr. Bolortsetseg Minjin and Baasanjav Ugtbayar and Badamkhatan Zorigt: grad students training at the museum of the rockies to be the next generation of Mongolian palaeontologists.

The IMD is conducting independent fieldwork in 2008, collecting at least some of the time in Late Cretaceous deposits.

Mongolia doesn't look terribly different from parts of Montana, and the fossil collecting is just as good too. This is Oshih (pronounced "ush"), a locality of global importance with outcrops of Early Cretaceous rocks: approximately 130 million years old.

This is a pretty typical exposure of dinosaur bone. Mostly you find lots of broken up limb fragments on the surface. Many specimens that have been exposed for a while have been "headhunted" by commercial collectors, so its important to find new sites, although the limb bones at a site like this are still very useful for research.

Image of Psittacosaurus, © Raul Martin, from his website.

This is one of the first decent Psittacosaurus skeletons found on the trip, collected by Badma and Dandug. In the picture you can see the tibiae and fibulae of the hindlimb: just what we need for histology studies!

Psittacosaurus is a basal member of the Ceratopsia: the horned dinosaurs that include Triceratops from north America, and Protoceratops also from Mongolia.

This was one of 9 or so Psittacosaurus I found exposed in one spot. This one was broken up already, so was easier to spot.

Articulated vertebrae from the same specimen

This is one of the nice Psittacosaurus skulls that we found. This one has been a little exposed by recent weathering, but this allows you to see its face very clearly, with neck vertebrae articulated to the back of the skull.

In case you're not sure, this outline shows the head shape, eye socket, nostril, and beak of the Psittacosaurus (seen from the side, facing right).

Big sky country in Oshih. Our camp is visible in the grassed area on the very left of this panoramic.

Helping erect the camp ger: a traditional Mongolian house made of wood and wool.
These get very warm inside, which is lucky as Mongolia gets very cold outside.
(Photo J. Scannella)

Time was tight, so typically we would work late. This is our dinner table, where we would eat in the evening. (Photo J.Scannella)

Most ger camps that we stayed at had dogs. We met this friendly pup on the way out into the field. He was really cute! (Photo: J. Scannella)

Removing yet another field jacket full of Psittacosaurus bones.

The John-Denver project in Mongolia! This particular day, I unintentionally put my hat on back to front (I did wonder why my shadow looked odd at times). It took me a full half day to notice, not before this photo was taken. Duh! (Photo: J. Scannella)

Fun with glowsticks! Badma (Zorigt) spells out his initials during a lighter moment in camp (usually we are terribly serious).

While in Ulaan Bataar we took a trip to the Mongolian Natural History Museum (image from here). I'd also recommend the National Museum of Mongolian History, and the International Intellectual Museum. All really great.

A lot of the museum explanatory diagrams were quite striking examples of soviet-era poster art (which I happen to quite like). I was very pleased... the photoshop era has seen the sad demise of the poster artform.

Of course, we came for the exhibits. Here are the famous "fighting" dinosaurs,Velociraptor and Protoceratops: often cited as evidence of real life-and-death struggles, but some researchers think that this is not the case. You can download Dr. Ken Carpenter's view here. This is one of a series of 28 photos I took of this specimen. You can see more here.

This is Saichania, from the Late Cretaceous units of the Gobi desert. It is one of the few mounted ankylosaur skeletons in the world.

Tarbosaurus bataar

Dinosaurs painted in calligraphic style. Here a Gallimimus looks perturbed as couple of Velociraptor rush by. I bought this at the Natural History Museum gift shop.

Protoceratops are often preserved in this posture, possibly due to burrow collapses (Longrich, 2007). However, the artist who painted this seemed to think they were buried in an enormous explosion of meatballs and marinara sauce, but they look quite pleased about it all the same.

The Choijin Lama buddhist temple in Ulaan Bataar. (Photo J. Scannella)