The 2003 field season was put in jeapardy by the fear of SARS, but when the disease's spread
subsided in early summer plans were quickly made for a slightly shortened field season. We began our work at
Konglonggou (see the map
on our main page), an area of relatively low relief with few badlands but home of two important sites discovered
by earlier IVPP expeditions. Many isolated bones of juvenile individuals of the small sauropod Bellusaurus
were quarried from a single site in the 1980s, but skull bones were very rare. A few kilometers away is a site at
which the single fragmentary jaw of the mammal Klamelia was found, and it had also produced isolated teeth
and bones of fish and reptiles. Xu Xing set up camp with IVPP personnel at Konglonggou in early August (Clark
and others would come a week later) and re-opened the Bellusaurus quarry. The Shishugou Formation crops
out over a large area between Konglonggou and Jiangjunmiao, but when Dr. Xu led a party to those outcrops the
sight of a large group of people illegally collecting petrified wood for commercial sale caused them to turn back
from this unpoliced area.
The Bellusaurus quarry - With temperatures during the day well over 100 degrees fahrenheit,
shelter was necessary. The quarry site is rich in bones distributed throughout a narrow layer very low in the
Shishugou Formation, but digging them out was hard work.
Bellusaurus humerus and ilium - All of the bones in the quarry are disarticulated, and there were
an unusually large number of humeri. Preservation is very good, with little crushing. Each bone was individually
jacketed or wrapped in paper for transport back to Beijing.
Quarrying - Quarrying the bones was hard, hot work. Although Bellusaurus dominated the
quarry, occasional teeth and bones of theropods were also collected. It is unclear how the accumulation formed,
but the bones were obviously transported before being buried. By the end of our work there the quarry had
rewarded us with at least four skull bones, including a parietal and postorbital, as well as a dentary with teeth.
Pterodactyl skull - To relieve the crew from boredom, short trips to nearby outcrops of the Early
Cretaceous Tugulu group were made. This resulted in the discovery of a beautiful skull and partial skeleton of
the pterodactyl Dzungaripterus, which is surprisingly common in these beds.
Shashlick! - Barbecued spiced lamb spices up the night. After a rainy day and a flat tire, a beer and
a few skewers hit the spot.
Prospecting for mammals - David Ward joined the group August 26 as a "hired gun" to find small vertebrate
fossils by screen washing. Here David is prospecting the site at which the jaw of Klamelia was found. The
layer he is looking at proved to have abundant small fossils (below), so we dug up several large bags of matrix to
screen wash in camp.
Tiny bones - These pieces expose some of the tiny bones preserved in the layer that David found. They are
spread throughout the rock, including a crocodylian tooth near the top. The bones we could recognize
are from ray-finned fish, lungfish, labyrinthodont amphibians, and crocodylians. Some of the rock,
like this, is hard and does not break down easily in water, but experiments with battery acid showed that it
will break down in weak acid back in the laboratory.
Screenwashing - The matrix was screen washed back at camp using screens David brought. With water scarce a
small depression in the ground was covered with a plastic trash bag, filled with water, and the screens placed in the water.
Here Li Wei screens with the help of He Sicai (our cook), while some of the screened material dries on a plastic bag in the
Fresh noodles - Xinjiang is known for its fine food, such as these noodles being made by Mr. He. The noodles
are lengthened by banging them on the cutting board, then cut into smaller pieces. Most dishes are spiced with dozens of
small dried red peppers.
A second small vertebrate site - In 2002 Will Downs discovered a sauropod skeleton low in the Shishugou Formation
at Wucaiwan and David Eberth later found small bones associated with it, so we took David Ward there to check it out.
Finding labyrinthodont amphibian vertebrae and lungfish teeth, we took several bags of matrix to wash. But first we
had to remove the many chunks of sauropod bone littering the ground, none of which was well preserved
(the delicate sauropod vertebrae had been compressed into nearly two dimensions). That's Jim in the background, trying to
lose weight and soak up some sun. We also prospected Shishugou outcrops between Konglonggou and Wucaiwan but found nothing.
Farewell to Cathy - The night before Cathy Forster left Mr. He prepared a banquet, followed by the traditional
round after round (after round) of toasts. The highlight of the dinner was a fresh whole chicken that was marinated in
soy sauce, fried whole, then pressure cooked with ginger and onions.
Back to Wucaiwan - We moved to our old stomping grounds in Wucaiwan September 5, setting up camp at the
same site as in 2001. Wucaiwan had been the most productive area in the previous two years, so we had high hopes of
finding more fossils in the upper part of the formation. We also followed up on some finds of large sauropod bones we
made in the lower part of the formation made when we visited Wucaiwan earlier to screen wash the flattened sauropod site.
Quarrying for ornithischians - This site not far from camp proved to have a concentration of small
ornithischian bones, including the jaw below. Unfortunately few bones were articulated. Here Huo and Ding-wen Jian use
a jackhammer to take away overburden.
An ornithischian jaw - This lower jaw recovered from the quarry probably belongs to a small ornithopod dinosaur.
A surprising find - Jim searched hard for small fossils, hoping for a small theropod, but instead was rewarded
with small crocodylians like those he found last year. This trend culminated in his discovery at this site of a small area
filled with them, a mass graveyard of small crocodylian skeletons. To
see an image of the complete skull of one of the tiny crocs from last year click here.
Mapping out skeletons - When it slowly became clear that many skeletons were buried there, we decided that
this unusual collection should be removed as intact as possible. Here Jim sets out a small piece of red tape at the site
of each skeleton so they can be avoided during the quarry operation.
The lay of the land - After several days of quarrying it was clear that a single large block was not feasible, so two
areas were identified to be taken out whole.
Plastering the blocks - After plaster jackets were placed on each of the two blocks, crates were built around them.
Here plaster is being poured into the crates, to create a "monolith." This makes the block much stronger, albeit much heavier.
A messy job - Plastering in the field is not a fine art, and all of the plaster does not end up on the fossil.
Moving day - The two monoliths were moved slowly onto a truck, using a winch to pull them along a short road
constructed with scree from the quarry. This dangerous operation went smoothly, thanks to the planning and work of Wang
Hai-jun, Huo Yu-long, and the rest of the crew. We waited until the last day in the field to move the blocks, then drove with
them to Urumchi.
Studying fossils in Beijing - Cathy and Jim have visited Beijing to study the expeditions fossils several times,
working in the office of Xu Xing at the IVPP. Here Cathy is studying a beautiful ornithopod skull collected in 2001, from a
nearly complete skeleton. Click here to see top and bottom
views of the skull.
Thanks to Rene Hernandez and David Ward for use of their images.