DINOSAUR DISCOVERIES

What great Jurassic and early Cretaceous period discovery was made in Asia?

The site of spectacular fossils, including many dinosaur remains, was found in Liaoning Province, northeast China, near the village of Beipiaon. The site contained the first fossilized internal organs of dinosaurs and the first fossil of a dinosaur containing the remains of a mammal it might have eaten. This site has also yielded the remains of Confuciusornis, one of the oldest beaked bird; the feathered dinosaur Sinosauropteryx prima; the oldest modern bird, Liaoningornis; a dinosaur found in a sleeping position; a Protarchaeopteryx, which is a primitive bird perhaps older than Archaeopteryx lithographica; the earliest flower, placental mammal, and marsupial; and many other species of dinosaurs, mammals, insects, and plants. There are new findings every year.

The fossils found at the site were preserved in great detail because the prolific rock layer is from a lacustrine (lake) deposit that was covered with a fine volcanic ash. Paleontologists speculate that a brief catastrophe, such as a volcanic eruption, killed and quickly buried everything in the area. Thus, even impressions of soft body parts, such as feathers and organs, were preserved.

Where do Cretaceous dinosaur fossils continue to be found in Mongolia?

At Ukhaa Tolgod, in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, lies what is billed as one of the greatest Cretaceous fossil finds in history. Starting in 1993, the discoveries have included the remains of more than 13 troodontid skeletons, over 100 uncollected dinosaur specimens; numerous mammals, and a nest-brooding adult Oviraptor. The reason for the huge number and extraordinary states of preservation is thought to be due to a series of catastrophic occurrences. These events swiftly buried the animals, precluding any damage by the elements or scavengers. Scientists believe normally stable sand dunes became drenched with rain water, triggering sudden debris flows that trapped and preserved the animals.

What is one of the most famous dinosaur sites in the world today?

Flaming Cliffs, located in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, is one of the most famous dinosaur sites in the world today. In the 1920s, an expedition from the American Museum of Natural History, led by Roy Chapman Andrews, yielded the first dinosaur eggs at this site. It was closed for many years, but in the late 1980s the site was reopened to scientific study and dinosaur fossil gathering. Since that time, numerous findings have continued to occur in this dinosaur-rich area.

While many dinosaur fossils have been uncovered in the western United States, important finds are being made in such countries as China and, shown here, remote Mongolia. Government restrictions can make obtaining permits for digs in these areas very problematic (iStock).

What Chinese dinosaur fossils may be the closest-known ancestor of birds yet found?

The Caudipteryx (tail feather) was a 3-foot- (1-meter-) tall, feathered theropod dinosaur that may be the closest-known ancestor of birds to date. Fossils of this creature have been uncovered in the sediment of an ancient lake bed in Chinas Liaoning Province. This dinosaur lived during the Late Jurassic to Early Cretaceous periods (about 120 to 136 million years ago) and had asymmetrical feathers, indicating that it did not fly, but used the feathers for insulation. Unlike other theropod dinosaurs, the Caudipteryx did not have a long tail, but it did support feathers up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) in length.

What do certain fossils in China indicate about dinosaur social groups?

The fossilized remains of six infant dinosaurs that died in a volcanic mudflow were recently found in China. Researchers say the animals were less than four years old and probably formed a creche composed of babies from at least two different clutches. The discovery of these 120-million-year-old Psittacosaurus may mean that the animals formed social groups much earlier than previously thought.

 
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