Notes from the field: 10 July 2007 [from archive]

10 July 2007. BagedaUla, Inner Mongolia

0936-1830. Today the screen-washing small mammal team worked for a whole day by the freshwater well. they have nearly finished the 160+ bags collected from IM0702, and Li Qiang collected a dozen or so more bags from a separate outcrop.

-Gary and I were in charge of excavating IM0703 (People's Hole), several other students went to the same section. They drew illustrations of the section, while Yuki Tomida and Yuri Kimura surface prospected.

[excavation at IM0703, "People's Hole"]

-The weather held up, though it got windy in the mid-afternoon. We excavated three plaster jackets, one being the Hipparion partial jaw with deciduous tooth, the other with a femur and embedded elements, third being a complete jaw, bovid horncore, and other elements.

[grassland of Baogeda Ula, Inner Mongolia]

-We processed the fossils after dinner, and packed everything in four boxes (in addition to six jackets) for transporting. We have another half day here, then onward west.

[partially exposed fossil antelope lower jaw]

-end field notes-


Meet the paleontologist II: Gary Takeuchi


Mr. Gary Takeuchi has been associated with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County for much of the past 20 years. He is a curatorial assistant in the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology, where he currently coordinates large projects related to the redesign of a new Cenozoic Mammal Hall for the museum.

A native southern Californian, Gary majored in Geology at California State University, Los Angeles. Before joining the Tibetan Plateau expedition crew in 2005, he previously worked closely with Vertebrate Paleontology Curator Emeritus Dr. David Whistler in the Mojave Desert fossil localities of Red Rock Canyon State Park, establishing one of the stratigraphic standards of geological ages in North America.

Subsequently, he got his start in paleontology as a volunteer at the Rancho La Brea tarpits and eventually became chief excavator of Pit 91 from 1999 to 2000. In addition to years of excavation experience, Gary's field experience spans the U.S., Mexico, Argentina, and China. He is truely a field leader who can run large field operations and ensure the smooth collection of fossil specimens and their safe return to research institutions, all the while keeping the fieldwork as organized as in a controlled laboratory environment.

Gary currently lives in West Los Angeles, California with his wife Karen.


Meet the paleontologist I: Xiaoming Wang


Dr. Xiaoming Wang is currently a curator of the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. He has been at the Natural History Museum since 2002, when he joined the research staff in Los Angeles from his post-doctoral position at the American Museum of Natural History and a teaching position at Long Island University.

After earning a B.S. from Nanjing University, he spent a short time studying at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (Chinese Academy of Sciences) in Beijing before moving to the United States where he received his M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Kansas, Lawrence.

Xiaoming has worked in the Inner Mongolian region of China since 1994, and on the Tibetan Plateau since 1995. His field expeditions placed the little known fossil mammal faunas of the Tibetan Plateau on the map, and continued explorations in western Tibet under his leadership are uncovering additional valuable fossil evidence of a rich and diverse mammal fauna in the plateau region.

Xiaoming has received major research grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation, Chinese National Natural Science Foundation, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the National Geographic Society.

Xiaoming currently lives in the Thousand Oaks area in southern California with his wife Yanping and their son Alex.


Notes from the field: 9 July 2007 [from archive]

9 July 2007. Baogeda Ula, Inner Mongolia

0900-1800. Gary, Sukuan, Qinqin and I spent the day excavating a Hipparion [three-toed horse] palate from IM0704, which is further up-section from IM0701.

[crew examines fossil concentrations at IM0704, nicknamed "Foot in Mouth Quarry"]

-We exposed a rhino wrist bone, scapula, and femur while removing the surface rock. We did not have adequate equipment to conduct such a large scale extraction (the bone bed is extensive; it covers the entire pocket of the hillside we were working in).

-Thus, we selectively extracted the carpal and the jaw (maxillary fragment). We prospected some more around the pocket, and discovered a lower Hipparion jaw after splitting open a fallen rock.

[partial upper jaw of a three-toed horse from IM0704, with dental pick for scale]

-It rained once around 1130, and another time around 1700. We met up with the small mammal crew (they haven't had much luck washing, with the purchase of a new pump plus bad weather). I helped for an hour before wrapping up the workday.

[small mammal crew screens for microfossils; the goats were taking over the well during their water break]


Notes from the field: 8 July 2007 [from archive]

8 July 2007. Baogeda Ula, Inner Mongolia
1200. Locality IM0703 = J070807T01

-2 unidentified bone framents
-1 chelonian [turtle] plastron fragment
-2 Hipparion [three-toed horse] premolars
-1 bag of fragmentary enamel parts
-1 artiodactyl astragalus
-1 partial lower rhinocerotid tooth
-1 rhino terminal long bone

N 44 --' 52.2"
E 114 --' 51.2"
elevation 3755 ft

[Xiaoming puts the final touches on one of the plaster jackets at locality IM0703, nicknamed "People's Hole"]

-Gary, Xiaoming, and I spent the day at the above locality. I opened up a pit to collect more fossils where they are working on a Hipparion jaw and a rhino astragalus. In the afternoon, we took Li Qiang here as well, since in the morning we also found a leporid [rabbit] lower molar.

[our temporary preparation laboratory / sleeping quarters in Abaga]

-The weather is unsettled; it was a little cold and rainy in the morning (upper 50's F) to mostly sunny in the afternoon (upper 80's F).

-We had hotpot for dinner.

-end field notes-

[our small mammal team shares the local well with Mongolian herders in their screen washing operation]

[commentary: the small mammal team continued to screen wash matrix (or sediments) collected from two days ago.]

Notes from the field: 7 July 2007 [from archive]

7 July 2007. Baogeda Ula, Inner Mongolia

-0900-1630. The weather has been relatively unsettled. It rained at around 0600 to 0630, thus I did not go for a run (also, I was tired from yesterday's work, so I did not feel well rested). We cleaned out the fossils and wrapped them.

-After breakfast at the hotel restaurant (note: we are staying in the town of A-ba-ga), we drove again to Baogeda Ula, where we split up into two groups: one group scraped surface matrix in preparation for screen-washing. The other group (composed of Gary and myself) proceeded to make plaster jackets of our horse metapodial, unknown fragment, and horse mandible.

-We got the fossils out, then started looking just up-section for more. It got very windy around 1600, when we headed back to the vehicles.

-end field notes-

[Ho Sukuan, Dr. Deng Tao, Dr. Yuki Tomida, guy I don't remember, and Dr. Qiu Zhuding]

[commentary: July 7 was also the birthday of one of the Chinese graduate students, Sukuan Ho. We celebrated her birthday with a feast at a local restaurant, with lots of singing.]


Notes from the field: 6 July 2007 [from archive]

6 July 2007. Baogeda Ula, Inner Mongolia

-1400-1800. We prospected all around the area where Hyaenictitherium hyaenoides was found in 2002.

(fossil prospecting in the Baogeda Ula Formation, Inner Mongolia. 6 July 2007)

-Distal metapodial, and embedded equid mandible. p1-2 were excavated, but the rest were left there until we are prepared with plaster bandages and acryloid glue tomorrow.

Locality J070607T01
N 44 --.380'
E 114 --.730'
elevation 1153 m

-Weather: in the early afternoon the temperature was probably in the 90's F, although at around 1700 more clouds moved in. Cloud cover is about 60%, with wind picking up from the east.

-Our earlier explorations did not return any fossils; we did realize that the only decent exposure is the fragment site where the hyaenid was found. We were probably correct in the conclusion that more complete material were still preserved in situ, and requires excavation.

-end field notes-

[commentary: the day after this was written, we discovered two concentrations of fossils east and west of the site described above; those two sites became the first in the Baogeda Ula Formation to produce complete elements of large fossil mammals, and will be the focus of my own expedition in June 2009; stay tuned for more archived notes from 2007!]

Legacies of exploration in the Qaidam Basin

This is the introduction to a new series of topics on the extinct animals that we discover on our expeditions. Whereas the "What is it like" series paints a picture of how we live and conduct our work, we hope to outline the scientific findings of our expedition in this series.

(at the end of the 2007 field season, Gary takes a moment in the shade to contemplate the implications of our research)

Some of our work is based on important findings of previous explorers to the Tibetan Plateau, but much of it has been built from the ground up in the past decade.

(Qaidam [Tsaidam] Basin is the largest terrestrial basin on the plateau)

In 1931, a Swedish vertebrate paleontologist named Birger Bohlin of the Sven Hedin Expeditions got word of fossil occurrences near the Tuosu Nor [nor means lake in Mongolian], at the northeastern area of the Qaidam Basin. He went there and collected several hundred fossil specimens of extinct mammals in 1931 and during a second field season in 1932. He published his findings which were the first scientific documentation of mammal fossils in that part of the plateau.

(Birger Bohlin. Credit: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis)

After the turbulent years of the 1930s and 1940s, Chinese geologists under both the Nationalist government and the new government (post-1949) of the People's Republic of China reported on fossil-rich localities in other areas of the Qaidam Basin. However, no systematic paleontological expeditions were mounted during that entire period until IVPP paleontologists resumed intensive explorations in the mid 1990s.

(geologists and paleontologists discuss the plan of exploration in Yahu, central Qaidam Basin)

To date, the Qaidam Basin consitutes the richest sites for our paleontological work (although the Zhada Basin in Tibet also shows potential from our more recent seasons). With an average elevation of ~3000 m (~9843 feet), it is sunny, dry, and windy during the summer months. Occasional storms dot the landscape, and in low-lying areas millions (it seems to us anyway) of mosquitoes thrive.

(typical sparse shrubby vegetation in the Qaidam Basin)

The basin has an area of around 550 km x 250 km (~342 miles by 155 miles). There are currently four major fossil mammal communities (faunas) known: (1) Olongbuluk (middle Miocene age), (2) Tuosu (early late Miocene), (3) Shengou (middle late Miocene), and (4) Huaitoutala (early Pliocene).

(Antler of Stephanocemas, an extinct deer with crown-like head ornaments [皇冠鹿] commonly found in the Qaidam Basin)

Many of the localities in the Qaidam Basin are revisited by us annually. This coming season (2008) will be no exception. In particular, we hope to return to the hills near Olongbuluk Mountain and Tuosu Nor, close to where Birger Bohlin probably explored more than seven decades ago. We will post news about those sites as we make it there in September!

(a brand new area waiting to be explored, with the dark Olongbuluk Mountains in the background. We spent only an afternoon there in 2007 scouting the extent of the highly fossiliferous area. Stay tuned for this year's activities here!)