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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dinosaurs in Zigong, China

Since the theme of this week here has been inspired by my yet to reappear post, it seems to be the perfect moment to share my experience regarding something that has been missing for a much longer time: dinosaurs.

About the same time I was starting to wonder about my missing post, there was an article by Tania Branigan of the Guardian about China's numerous dinosaur discoveries (see here).  She focuses on the discoveries and museum in Zhucheng, Shangdong province and highlights a few species that may not be known to those who aren't dino-experts.

Coincidentally, I happened to be in Zigong, Sichuan province -- very far away from Zhucheng.  It, too, is famous for the numerous fossils in the region and boasts its own museum aptly named the Zigong Dinosaur Museum (not to be confused with another famous museum in Zigong, the Historical Museum of the Salt Industry).  I took a taxi to the outskirts of Zigong to check it out.

On arrival one is faced with the uniquely designed building seen here:

entrance building somewhat in the shape of a dinosaur
I believe this building is supposed to look a bit like a dinosaur.
At least the building was air-conditioned.  One of the signs for the park claimed:
"Covering an area of 8.7 km2, the Dashanpu Dinosaur Fossil Site Scenic Area, which is a core protected area with the most abundant dinosaur fossils in the geopark has the largest burial site for watching on-spot protected dinosaur fossils in the world.  From the excavated area of 2,800 m2, more than ten thousand specimens belonging to over 200 dinosaurs and other vertebrates have been unearthed, and 23 genera and 27 species, including 12 new genera and 24 new species, have been identified.  This kind of the site with such abundant and completely preserved dinosaur fossil of the Middle Jurassic is rare in the world."
With that in mind I was very excited and upon entering the park a worker guided me in the proper direction.  One of the first things I saw was this:

several small models of dinosaurs that are in various states of decay or knocked over
The models look like they're about to become extinct, too.

OK.  Admittedly this was not what I was expecting.  There were many other similar scenes to be found that included even more decayed examples of miniature dinosaur replicas.  Oh well...  But onward I went to the main museum building which proved to better meet expectations.

It housed several very large fossils, including this trio:



These are 3 wonderful specimens of the Shunosaurus (type species Shunosaurus lii).  In front of the display was a sign which read in part:
"Warm family: Three family members of Shunosaurus lii are walking and feeding leisurely.  What a warm and romantic scene!"
While I appreciated the Shunosaurus fossils I must admit the romanticism wasn't what I first noticed.  Maybe I was being shunned.

Several of the other fossil displays were certainly not romantic and had a strikingly violent tilt to them.  For example:

larger dinosaur picking up much smaller one with its mouth
Dinner time

I question whether such a scene ever played out quite like this but I appreciate the drama it provided.  This one also had a bit of drama to it:

two dinosaurs attacking another
A bigger dinner

While the fossils such as the ones above were impressive and introduced me to several species I had not been previously aware of, what most impressed me was the very large partially excavated fossil pit enclosed in the museum:

large partially excavated fossil pit
Lots of fossils

several fossils in the fossil pit
Close-up view of one section of the fossil site

It was incredible to see so many fossils as they would be found during an excavation.  Both the density and variety were easy to notice.

The other sections of the park were closed for renovation.  Given the condition of the many dinosaur models outside this may be a positive sign and I am hopeful the future holds more promise for the park surrounding the main museum building.  Regardless, the museum in Zigong, like the one in Zhucheng, provides an important picture into a long ago age that captures the minds of so many today.  If one is around Zigong I recommend a quick trip to the museum -- the large fossil pit seals the deal.

And who knows, maybe you'll better appreciate the romance to be found there.

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