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Mongolia Trip!



Well, IÕm back in the states again, working and lurking, but before I re-enter 
lurk-mode, I thought I might share some of the highlights from my recent trip 
to Mongolia.  
   One of the first books I can remember reading was ÔAll About DinosaursÕ, by 
 Roy Chapman Andrews.  Ever since that day (I was 4 or 5 at the time), IÕve 
always wanted to go to Mongolia.   Unfortunately, political events kept the 
country closed to most visitors for about 70 years. After the collapse of the 
USSR western paleontologists were able to start re-exploring the Mongolian 
countryside, but unless you were a professional paleontologist associated with 
a museum, the chances to actually go there and be involved in a dig were 
virtually nonexistent.   I thought that molecular pharmacology research was 
far enough away from paleontology to almost guarantee that I would have no 
chance to make any field contributions to paleontology in the Gobi Desert.   
So when the opportunity to go to Mongolia with the Dinamation International 
Society came up, I jumped at it.   It was a chance to go to the Flaming Cliffs 
and Tugrigiin Shiree, make some new finds, record all the data, and contribute 
anything relevant to the Mongolian Academy of Science. 
   We had a group of 13 North Americans, including the first professional 
paleontologist from Mexico to ever make it to Mongolia.   Our fearless leader 
was Dr. Jim Kirkland, of Utahraptor fame, although his real passion is for 
ankylosaurs.   The rest of us were just plain folks, most of whom shared an 
intense interest in paleo and had participated as volunteers on multiple digs 
before this.
  OK, so now  the highlights:
Seeing the mounted skeletons of Tarbosaurus baatar, a huge Saurolophus, more 
Protoceratops than you could easily remember to count, nests of several 
different types of dinosaur eggs, Oviraptor skulls, Ingenia skull, an 
articulated sauropod skull (Nemegtosaurus?), as well as the biggest ankylosaur 
(Taricha?) tail club IÕve ever seen, all in the main museum in Ulaan Baatar.  
And not to forget my personal favorite, the absolutely huge and impressive 
arms of Deinocheirus - these just have to be seen to be believed!   (Big 
disappointment- the ÔFighting DinosaursÕ were out on tour with some of what 
the Mongolians considered their best material, so there were several 
tantalizing display cases that were empty.)
   The prep rooms at the museum- most fantastic was a nest of articulated 
hatchling ProtoÕs with skulls about the size of my thumb.  These little guys 
were still in the nest when it was buried, and most of their little heads were 
pointed in the same direction, as if they were struggling to get out when they 
died.  Absolutely amazing and fantastic, and perfectly preserved!    We also 
got to see some of the finds of the last couple of years in various stages of 
preparation, including a complete Velociraptor that was curled around itself, 
and lots of hadrosaur, tarbosaur, oviraptorid, and ornithomimid material.
   We also got to meet Dr. Rinchen Barsbold, and as an added treat, Dr. Halska 
Osmolska was there examining some new oviraptorid material which may be 
described soon.
   In the field- the amazing richness of the Flaming Cliffs!    We had been 
prospecting there for about an hour and a half when we found a nearly complete 
Velociraptor skeleton weathering out  of the rock.   Part of the skull was 
gone, but we had the braincase, a lot of vertebrae, limbs, feet, and claws 
just sitting there waiting for us!  We also found Protoceratops galore nearly 
everywhere we looked.   I managed to find a pretty complete nest of Oviraptor 
eggs in the side of the cliff, laid in their typical paired pattern, which we 
spent a day and a half removing.   We also came up with a lizard skull about 
the size of my thumb-nail, and three ankylosaur skulls (probably Pinacosuarus),
 one of which even had the olfactory bulbs preserved as a mold!
Tugrigiin Shiree- another incredibly rich site!   This was where the fighting 
dinosaurs and the baby ProtoÕs were found, so we were really keen to see what 
we could find.   We found many more Protoceratops remains, including some of 
the best preserved material IÕve ever seen, like a complete articulated Proto 
skull, everything from the beak to the frill, exposed on a small ledge and 
prettier than any in situ mount of a Proto in any museum.   Big ProtoÕs, 
little ProtoÕs, hips, legs, feet, skulls, bodies, all you have to do is walk a 
short distance in almost any direction and watch for exposed bone!   I also 
managed to find the skull and some of the post-crania of a large (squirrel-
sized) multituberculate, and as a group we found various pieces of things that 
were non-Proto, but not readily identifiable, and more Velociraptor bits, a 
tarbosaur tooth, parts of a large hadrosaur, and what may have been a badly 
weathered chunk of Oviraptor.
   We also got to enjoy the distinctive Gobi weather- everything from hot and 
dry to cool and raining, with a surprise sandstorm thrown in, just to see if 
we were paying attention!
  All in all, it was the trip of a lifetime, and I would encourage anybody 
that even thinks they might be interested in going to do so.   You wonÕt be 
sorry, and it will be an experience that youÕll remember for a long time!
 
Well, back to working and lurking!   Thanks for letting me share, and special 
thanks to Jim Kirkland and Dinamation for making it all possible.  Bruce 
Mortensen

PS- Anyone out there need a good volunteer for field work next season?