2009 Inner Mongolia Expedition confirmed

Great news from Los Angeles:

Jack's 2009 Inner Mongolia Expedition to the hills of Baogeda Ula in the central part of the region has just received enough funding to materialize! He will lead an international crew of paleontologists to explore and excavate the late Miocene rocks of Baogeda Ula, where two new fossil localities were discovered in 2007.

Baogeda Ula [宝格达乌拉]

The American crew will be funded by an Evolving Earth Foundation Research Grant, a National Geographic Society Young Explorers Grant, and a Geological Society of America Student Research Grant. Our Chinese counterparts will also be partially funded by these grants, in addition to a grant from the Chinese Academy of Sciences to Dr. Qiang Li.

Look for the reports of this expedition on this blog next year in 2009!


Explorer's excerpts I: Andrews on fossil prospecting

Below is an excerpt from Roy Chapman Andrews' (American Museum of Natural History) reflection on his expeditions to Outer and Inner Mongolia:

"...I am hardly philosophical enough for a palaeontological collector. Disappointments and successes send me too easily into the blackest depths or to the pinnacle of happiness, and particularly I cannot curb my impatience sufficiently when a specimen has been found. Walter Granger or any of the other trained men are content to work away the matrix around a fossil with a camel's-hair brush, grain by grain, waiting for the specimen to develop as they go down. Theirs is admittedly the proper way to proceed, but pick-and-shovel methods, which at least give quick results, are suited naturally to my restless spirit. Perhaps a complete skeleton or a priceless skull lies below that bit of projecting bone, and I simply cannot wait for days to know. Therefore, whenever one of the men is engaged upon the delicate operation of removing a specimen, the chief palaeontologist issues an ultimatum to the leader of the Expedition: 'Thou shalt not approach this sacred spot unless thy pick is left behind.' "

~On the trail of ancient man (1926), p.213

[this excerpt embodies a common struggle between expedition leaders and crews. How do you know you are working with enough care without being too inefficient? We are often on a time crunch, but still have the goal of extracting intact specimens. Only years of field experience can one master patience and efficiency both.]


The bygone days of nomads and yurts

By request from our friend Judy (who just returned from east Africa and has her own blog of travel stories, among other things), we are posting a few photos of the house of our Mongolian friend who hosted us while we were working in the Dabaishan (Aoerban) area (see previous post).

Many Mongolians in Inner Mongolia no longer live in the traditional yurts of their ancestor's nomadic days. The grasslands are now divided up much like large ranches where their livestocks roam.

Our generous host Bai had a two-room brick house that he and his wife live in. One room composes of the kitchen / bedroom, as they prepare their meals on the bed. The other room is the dining / bedroom, as they eat on the bed as well.

Bai had a side house, which we were not introduced to, by the main house and the outdoor pen for the goats. He takes his goats out for grazing in the early morning, letting them wander over the gently rolling hills before bringing them into the pen in the evening.

The closest thing to yurts we encountered on our travels were the tents used by Tibetan nomads in western Tibet. These are often family-size tents where four, five, or even six people live in as they travel across the landscape.


Notes from the field: 15 July 2007 [from archive]

15 July 2007. Aoerban, Inner Mongolia

0920. J071507T01
N 43 --'32.7"
E 113 --'31.8"
elevation 1055 m

-tarsal bone (artiodactyl?)
-phalanx, artiodactyl
-antler fragment
-distal humerus, Ochotonidae?
-four incisor fragments, Glires [rodents and rabbits]
-proximal ulna, Glires
-right maxillary fragment with toothrow alveoli; Lagomorpha
-lower left mandibular fragment with m1-m3, Ochotonidae
-lower left dentary with m1, Dipodidae?

fossils are weathered out ~1 meter below green bed, in lower red bed.

1025. J071507T02
N 43 --'37.8"
E 113 --'36.4"
elevation 1059m

-three turtle shell fragments weathering out of middle green bed.

1115. J071507T03
N 43 --'41.2"
E 113 --'40.4"
elevation 1070 m

Weathering out of top red bed:
-three carapace frags, Chelonia [turtle]
-three incisor frags, rodent or lagomorph [rabbit]
-distal humerus, Artiodactyla [even-hoofed mammal]

1640. J071507T04
-partial cervid antler, weathering out of flat red bed west of "The Great Divide" (what I am calling the large north-south trending gulch)

-today was a bit cooler than yesterday; high temperature probably reached upper 80s to 90s F. The sky was a bit more patchy, with ~40% cloud cover from time to time. Gary and I spent the morning prospecting in the general exposure area.

-In the afternoon, I went to the eastern region of the exposures with Yuri Kimura, Shi Qinqin, and Hou Sukuan. We prospected along the lower red beds for ~3 hours. We found ochotonid jaws, some Tachyrictoides material, and an antler fragment.

-We arrived back to Bai's house around 1730, and waited for Xiaoming's vehicle to return. Gary and I have been assigned "hotel duty", to allow Deng Tao's students to camp for at least one night. I have also been assigned in charge of finance and supplies.

-Our drinking water needs to be shipped in daily, and thus one vehicle must return to the town of Sunite Zuoqi (also to gas up field vehicles that have been running in the field). Dinner was at the same restaurant, with five people. Our one-night turn in town allowed for a long shower, and wash of clothes.

-the next morning will essentially be spent buying supplies and traveling back to the field area.

-end field notes-


The quest for the Qaidam hyena cranium

Having introduced the research background of our work in the Qaidam Basin of the Tibetan Plateau (Part I), we will now tell the story of one of the most important fossil finds (well at least in Jack's mind) during the 2007 field season.

We use the Linnean hierarchy to describe the evolutionary position of each fossil species, for example we introduce the Qaidam hyena cranium, the focus of this post:

[hierarchical position - name - author - year of publication]
-Class Mammalia Linneaus 1758
--Order Carnivora Bowdich 1821
---Family Hyaenidae Gray 1869
----Genus Adcrocuta Kretzoi 1938

This hierarchical arrangement of information tells us that the genus of interest here (Adcrocuta) is a member of the hyena family (as opposed to the dog family for example), which belongs in the group of carnivorans (as opposed to primates for example), which is one of the mammal orders (as opposed to reptiles, for example).

Jack (Zhijie) discovered this specimen in the Shengou area on 29 July, 2007, at approximately 5 pm. We had been working for several days in the Shengou area, splitting the expedition crew between a mammal prospecting team at the main locality area, and a fish collecting crew at the Naoge area across the valley. The following is an account of Jack's memorable day:

The day started out very gloomy. We had been prospecting within a 1 km radius of the camp site for the past couple of days. But on 29 July a small crew (Qiang Li, Gary Takeuchi, Jack Tseng) was transported a few kilometers northwest to examine new areas.

We ascended the southwest dipping strata from deep down in the wash where our vehicle dropped us off. The wind was gusty, but a welcomed companion as a hiatus in the wind meant an opportunity for the Shengou mosquitoes to attack us. Li Qiang headed along strike in the lower part of the section, and Gary and I went further upsection, collecting a fossil turtle shell along the way.

We made it just up to a small plateau upsection before the sky started sprinkling. It was getting cold. However, we still needed to tread higher grounds to search for fossils, in addition to making the trek back to camp on foot. I pulled out my rain-jacket and gloves, and continued upward.

Eventually the strata flattened out enough that there are simply no more suitable exposures for prospecting. That's when we started back in the direction of camp. We came to another gulch which runs perpendicular to the dipping sections of rock. The bottom of the gulch had desertified, so we descended into a large sand dune. The fun part was getting back up to the other side of the gulch through the sand dune.

As it was near the end of the work day, we slowed our pace and hiked leisurely across the rolling terrain, in the direction of our camp.

[to be continued...]


Notes from the field: 11 July 2007 [from archive]

11 July 2007. Baogeda Ula / Locality 482, Inner Mongolia

0900-1400. We spent the morning washing IM0709 and IM0703 matrix, after finishing IM0702. The minibus got a flat tire while off-roading, thus our original plan to further prospect in Baogeda Ula was delayed.

[Dr. Qiu Zhuding of the IVPP gets screen-washing help from a local friend.]

1500. J071107T01 (Locality 482)
elevation 1031 m
N 43 --'06.1"
E 114 --'51.9"

-The 482 locality has been interpreted biochronologically as representing the eastern-most extent of the Tunggur Formation. There is no good way [yet] to geologically verify this interpretation.

[locality 482]

[collected specimen list]:
-distal artiodactyl metapodial
-rhinocerotid tooth fragment
-artiodactyl astragalus
-artiodactyl upper cheek tooth
-rhino calcaneum fragment?

-Another exposure just to the east has vertebral fragments and wrist bone fragments.
-The fossils are weathering out of red sandstone.

[fossil horse tooth from locality 482]

1615 J071107T02. Just south of previous locality, across the wash. Fossils are weathering out of yellow layer with calcareous nodules.
-astragalus (cervid?)
-metatarsal III (equid?)
-small phalanx

-end field notes-