7 November 2008. Hezheng, Gansu Province

Hezheng County is located in southwestern Gansu Province, very near the Linxia Aotonomous Region for Muslims. As such, the town center in Hezheng has roughly an equal number of Muslims and ethnic Han Chinese.

The town center has two major street end into each other at a right angle; however, most of the county is inhabited by villagers in the surrounding valleys.

We woke up today to a brisk morning, around 3 or 4 degrees Celsius with lots of frost around. It has not snowed for two days, so today we will get to see some geologic exposures without snow in the way.

Although my main goal in Hezheng is to examine new fossil specimens in the local museum, I just could not refuse a chance to see the actual fossil localities. However, these are not typical fossil localities from our work elsewhere. These fossils are dug up by farmer in dangerous makeshift tunnels.

Fortunately, the local government got word of a very rich fossil deposit in the Hualin valley, and designated a new geological park in the area. With a currently estimated area of 120 meters by 80 meters, this is one of the largest bonebeds in the entire Hezheng County.

The bonebed itself is only about 1 meter or so in thickness (see the tannish mudstone containing white bones to the right of the photo above). However, the fossil material (at least what has been exposed) is so complete and concentrated, that it is worth the title of a "Konzentrat-Lagerstätte", or the german term for a highly concentrated fossil deposit of outstanding (dare I say spectacular) preservation.

[an exposed vertebral column of a large mammal]

[two rhino skulls are exposed at the bottom of the photo, with a mandible to the right of Hou Sukuan, who is standing near the top of the photo]

We walked around the protected area for twenty minutes, and as I pondered the enormous amount of complete and rich fossils that beneath my feet, I came across a football-sized block. It turned out to be a hyena skull, a late Miocene bone-cracking Adcrocuta.

Needless to say, I was very impressed (dare I say blown away).

The eventual research on this rich bonebed will reveal much about the paleoenvironment of the time in the northeastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau; the complete hyena skeletons will reveal more about their paleoecology than ever before.

Here I sit on my bed in the museum dormitory, looking out to the hillside, and my mind is full of the possibilities, the potential, and the paleontological revolution that are forthcoming in the continued research of the Hezheng fossils.

I am very, very impressed (again).



Anonymous said...

Are you throwing your hardened nang into the river to soften it up enough to eat? Drinking lots of bai jiu? I hear the food is good, there are lots sheep and good breads. . . and watermelon. Have you tried Lanzhou la mian? mmm, I'm getting hungry. . .!

Zhijie (Jack) said...

The bread is pretty good, and so is the lamb. We consume baijiu to keep ourselves warm, but we have picky crew members who only drink the Beijing Erguotou; we are almost out! The weather got pretty warm (above 10 degrees Celsius) in the mid-afternoon, but only for a short time.

Karin said...

Hey Jack, that deposit sounds incredible. Wish I could see it. Are you going you throw the geologists a bone and tell us more about the geology? Stay warm!

Spencer said...


Hmm, I might throw this newfound term at Andie this Saturday....