Tuesday, February 09, 2010

"The Age of the Chinasaurs!"

Eric Adler of McClatchy news has a story on the rise in importance of China in the world of palaeontology and the enormous amount of information that is coming out of the country. He writes:
"It's not just dinosaurs, but fossil mammals, too," said famed dinosaur hunter Bob Bakker, curator of the Houston Museum of Natural Science. "They have great stuff: complete saber-tooth cat skeletons, three-toed horses. The Chinese have magnificent fossil rhinos."

As far as dinosaurs go, University of Pennsylvania paleontologist Peter Dodson keeps a running tally of the number discovered in different countries.

"I knew China had been close to the United States," he said. "I discovered to my surprise, chagrin, amazement that as of last summer, China not only had already surpassed the United States, but shot past it. I honestly didn't think we would ever relinquish our position, but things have happened so fast in China."

As of 1990, for example, a total of 64 types of dinosaurs had been found in the U.S; 44 in Mongolia; 36 in China.

In 2006, the U.S. hit 108, China was second at 101, Mongolia had 61.

Today, 132 have been found in China, 108 in the U.S. and 65 in Mongolia.

"I had a Chinese graduate student," Dodson said of his former student, You Hai-Lu. "In 2003, he accomplished a feat that nobody in the history of dinosaur paleontology had done. He named five new dinosaurs in one year."
It is largely the finds out of China that have revolutionized the study of the theropod-bird transition. As Donald Prothero writes in Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters:
The most earth-shaking discoveries come from the famous Lower Cretaceous Lianoning fossil beds of China, which have now become one of the world's most important fossil deposites. These delicate lake shales preserve extraordinary features in fossils, including body outlines, feathers, and fur as well as complete articulated skeletons with not a single bone missing.1

As Prothero notes, these beds have revealed many feathered, non-avian dinosaurs. Exciting times.

1Prothero, D. R. (2007) Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 263

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