The Challenge Of Gigantism

I have been preaching here that paleontologists should avoid fabricating just so stories about dinosaur lifestyles, at least with the false claim that this has something to do with rigorous science. Yet these matters are impossible to ignore. Take, for example, the skeletons of those giant sauropods from Mongolia, like the one unearthed in the Nemegt Valley by the Polish-Mongolian team in 1965. This hulking skeleton, which unfortunately lacked a skull and a neck, was given the rather cumbersome...

Grand Central Asia

Before the 1920s the dinosaurs and other fossil vertebrates of the Gobi were no more real to paleontologists than griffins. But there was a strong hunch that Central Asia held many secrets awaiting disclosure. So, as in other cases, theory and speculation fanned the enthusiasm for exploration. Explorers are driven not only by the desire to see what's on the other side but to prove they are right about their particular theory of the earth. Roy Chapman Andrews went searching for fossils in the...

Tools Of The Trade

My professional training for the Gobi did not really begin in the vacant lots of my youth in Los Angeles but in the scorching, red-walled canyons of southern New Mexico. Toward the end of my undergraduate stint at U.C.L.A., I was asked if I'd like to come along on a paleontological expedition. What better way to bypass the ennui of another summer in Los Angeles, I thought. On the cusp of my twenties, I had far less sense of direction than I had as a dinosaur enthusiast at age seven. I was a...

View From The Sphinx

It's helpful to write these words after just returning from another rewarding but exhausting season in the Gobi. Already, however, I must gather the energy to prepare for the next expedition nearly a year away. Life is a frantic, complicated, and telescoped bridge between field seasons. Some new vehicles will be purchased. Maybe we'll get a better map produced from the LANDSAT images. We must make arrangements, and raise the money, for reserving and renting a helicopter. It is very difficult to...

The Comfortable Corridor

Another point that has much interested paleontologists concerns the affinity of Cretaceous dinosaurs between two major regions of the world Central Asia and western North America. At closer inspection, the resemblances between these two faunas are even more striking. Velociraptor is very much like another somewhat larger dromaeosaur from North America, Deinonychus. The hadrosaur Saurolophus is known from both regions. The Asian Tarbosaurus is a slightly shorter version of the North American...

Growing Up

The retrieval of the Gobi fossil eggs in the 1920s also ushered in a new appreciation for the reproduction and growth of dinosaurs. When a dinosaur hatches it comes out into the world it must survive, grow up, and eventually reproduce its own kind. But what is the manner of this trip to maturity One might respond that the dinosaur infant simply gets bigger until . . . well, it gets to be the right size, the breeding size or adult size, that is, if it isn't eaten first. The matter of growth is,...

Griffins In The Sand

Given the plentiful fossils underfoot and the centuries of invading armies, migrating caravans, and wandering nomads in the Gobi, one wonders if alert, keen-eyed warriors and travelers stopped to ponder the origin of skulls with frills and parrotlike beaks, or skeletons several times larger than the bleached bones of a camel. After all, some of these specimens are not hard to find. We have even seen some large dinosaur skeletons eroded out on the crest of a hill while gazing out our car window....

Return To The Gobi

The age of paleontological discovery began in the Gobi in the 1920s with the American Museum team led by Roy Chapman Andrews. This enterprise gave the world evidence of dinosaur eggs, new kinds of dinosaurs and ancient mammals, and a vivid sense of the geologic history as well as the present terrain and wildlife of the great vastness known as the Gobi Desert. By the end of the 1920s, however, after the conclusion of five expeditions, the American Museum was not allowed to continue its research....

Chapter The Terrain Of Eons

I pace upon the battlements. . . Yeats, W. B., 1928. The Tower, pp. 85-90. In Williams, O. (ed.), 1952. A Little Treasury of Modern Poetry. Scribner, New York, 843 pp. p. 133. Fossilized remains of fruit. . . The Nemegt environment is described in Lavas, op. cit., pp. 130-31. p. 134. Nonetheless, the highest biomass. . . Bourliere, F, 1963. Observations on the ecology of some large African mammals, pp. 43-54. In Howell, F. C, and Bourliere, F. (eds.). African Ecology and Human...

The Name Of The Rose

To begin with, let me turn to the second most frequently asked question I get (next to Why are dinosaurs so popular ). Namely, when a paleontologist finds a bone or a skeleton in the field, how does he know whether or not he's found a new dinosaur Conversely, how does he know if the bone belongs to a dinosaur already named Of course, very often such a determination can't be made in the field at all. The fossil may be only partially exposed in the rock, failing to reveal the clues to its...

On Being And Becoming A Bird

Cladograms, phylogenetic trees, and classifications organize data for us. They provide a map that underpins our understanding of evolutionary routes among organisms. This operation is critical to considering the what happened questions. How did birds actually evolve What were the steps in attaining the flapping flight in modern birds How did feathers originally function as a coat to insulate warm-blooded, active creatures, or as flight structures themselves These kinds of questions are often...

The Way Of The Winds

When Roy Chapman Andrews and the rest of the American Museum team left Mongolia in 1928 they did not intend it to be their last trip. But troubles plagued the thorny negotiations for future expeditions. Permission to continue exploring was at last granted with strings attached. Andrews was allowed only to explore China's Inner Mongolia during the 1930 season. He had hoped that the demands made by Chinese officials who controlled entry to Mongolia would eventually be lifted. This hope for a...

Dinosaurs Are Vertebrates Are Animals Are Life

The divisions of the Ornithischia and Saurischia are the two major branches of that familiar level, the DINOSAURIA itself. Interestingly enough, dinosaurs as a group are less distinctive than the two major dinosaur divisions, as well as many dinosaur subgroups. The reason for this is the reality of evolution. Certain relatives of the dinosaurs very closely approach the basic conditions which must have existed in the dinosaur ancestor. The monophyly of Dinosauria is only demonstrable on the...

The Age Of Fragmentation

So successful is the new geology that we can actually calculate with fair accuracy the average rates of seafloor spreading in different regions of the world. Some fast plate movement is recorded in the Indian Ocean floor, with a rate of over three inches per year. In the South Atlantic spreading rates are a bit slower they average less than an inch per year. These movements may not seem very fast, but they are enough to make a big differ ence over a few million years. Hence, those fast...

Embryos And Ancestors

The origin of birds is one of the outstanding problems in vertebrate paleontology. It draws on the evidence of critical fossils as well as a vast array of data on the form in living creatures. Like other such problems, it is also greatly clarified with certain information of younger stages in both fossils and living species. Our dinosaur embryo was therefore regarded as an extraordinary prize. Likewise, such embryos and juveniles, whether found for fossil birds, non-avian theropods, or any...

The Beasts Of Tugrugeen

One important assignment of our 1992 stop at Tugrugeen was to collect the remaining skeletal parts of the Velociraptor that Jim had found the previous year. Studies by Mark and Jim during the intervening months had showed that this specimen, though not complete, was precious and enlightening. On the roof of the skull, a row of parallel holes perfectly matched the size and spacing of teeth in the upper jaw of another Velociraptor. The tooth punctures must have been lethal, as they were strong...

The Age Of Mammals

Whatever its specific causes, the mass extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous made a gaping craterlike wound in the earth's biota. As I've noted, however, there were survivors. Birds may be the only dinosaurs to last out the Mesozoic but they indeed had company. As our stupendous samples of skulls at Ukhaa Tolgod showed, the Mesozoic world was writhing with lizards and mammals and other vermin that made it through the Cretaceous extinction event. The forests, fields, and deserts of the...

Back To Eldorado

Our tortuous trek brought us back to Khulsan and Eldorado on July 3, 1991, slightly over a year since we had last danced among the dinosaur bones on our two red hills near Eldorado. This time we came in directly from the south side of the Nemegt Valley, traveling a decent road that led from the local district center, the Sumon of Gurvan Tes. Far across the green depression the Nemegt and the Khulsan canyonlands were on display for us. The orange-red sands of the lower rock sequences the Barun...

An Oasis In The Dunes

The stuff of dreams Or nightmares Perhaps. But this day in life and death, this vignette from some lost time and place, is captured with extraordinary detail by some of the fossil bone beds of the Gobi. The Flaming Cliffs of Shabarakh Usu appear to be the remnants of a varied landscape some eighty million years in age, not unlike parts of the Gobi today. There is evidence in the cliff face of ancient sand dunes. There are also places where the sculpturing of sandstones indicates what was once a...

The Land Of Tyrants And Dragons

After a day of recuperation at Naran Bulak, we shifted our sights upward to the rock sequence above the orange-red sands, the candy-striped Cretaceous badlands that the Russians and Poles had named the Nemegt Formation. Only a few miles north of our camp lay the Nemegt exposures of Altan Ula I, II, III, and IV, the famous sites of the Russian and Polish- Mongolian expeditions. These four intricate canyons of rainbow-colored rocks hung like entrails from the underbelly of the great hulk of Altan...

Dispatching Dinosaurs

Klados Paleontology

According to some treatises, there are about 410 named species of dinosaurs. This is far short of all the dinosaur names that have stuffed the literature. Dinosaurs have been outrageously oversplit. A recent volume on dinosaur taxonomy edited by David Weishampel, Peter Dodson, and Hal-ska Osmolska listed, in addition to valid species, about 209 nomina dubia, that is, species of dubious distinction. These rejects were originally described from inadequate bits of the skeleton, a part of a rib, a...

An Anchor Book Published By Doubleday

A division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036 ANCHOR BOOKS, DOUBLEDAY, and the portrayal of an anchor are trademarks of Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. Book design by Maria Carella Photo insert design by Folio Graphics The author gratefully acknowledges permission to reprint the following Page 131 From The Tower. Reprinted with the permission of Simon 8c Schuster from The Poems ofW.B. Yeats A New Edition,...

Squeezing Time From Stones

By this point you may have noticed something rather odd about all this reference to geological time units. I have referred to these eras, periods, and epochs and the problems of their recognition and varying duration, and all the while I have applied to them some rather precise, clocklike dates in thousands or millions of years. What allows me to be so glib Are some rocks conveniently labeled I am 310 million years old The answer to this last question is really no and yes. Rocks don't reveal...

Edwin H Colbert

The evening of our first day at the Flaming Cliffs, we took the time to count our take. My first proto was not the only thing I found that day. I later discovered another pretty skull frill in the shadows of a gully the jawline of the beast was highlighted by the afternoon sun, and the yellow enamel of the wrinkled cheek teeth glinted, as if this animal were appointed with a full set of gold caps. Bits and pieces of his foretoes stuck out of the sand one or two feet away. Protos were a common...

Precambria N

Precambria

Earth Calendar calibrated in millions of years EdHeck Coelophysis Ed Heck, reprinted with permission, AMNH Coelophysis Ed Heck, reprinted with permission, AMNH Meanwhile, in an even less auspicious fashion, the relatives of our own group, the mammals, were emerging. Unlike the case of dinosaurs, a fairly precise array of branches leads up to the mammalian line. These are taxa known as synapsids, forms that superficially resemble dinosaurs but evolved special features of the skull and skeleton...

Info

Oviraptor Ed Heck, reprinted with permission, AMNH Oviraptor Ed Heck, reprinted with permission, AMNH in 0. philoceratops it is directed somewhat up and forward in 0. mon-goliensis the crest is relatively larger and extends directly upward, its convex outline resembling from the side a bony fan. Both species show not only extensive cavities in the skull but also a complex filamentous structure of many of the bone surfaces. This condition, known as pneumatization, gives the skull a very spongy...

Vermin

We again found a great many lizard skulls at Ukhaa. In raw numbers, the abundance of these vermin was astounding. Nonetheless, we expected that such fossils would be relatively more common than dinosaurs and mammals. Indeed, lizards rank first in abundance among the vertebrates thus far collected from the Gobi Cretaceous. These are part of a Mesozoic renaissance that endured. Some of the lizard species are extremely well preserved and show anatomical features that offer clues to the...

Roy Of The Flaming Cliffs

Our expeditions to the Gobi in June 1990 began, in many respects, nearly seventy years before, with the audacious expeditions of the American Mu seum of Natural History in the 1920s headed by Roy Chapman Andrews. The five Gobi expeditions, officially called the Central Asiatic Expeditions C.A.E. , were carried out in 1922,1923,1925,1928, and 1930. These are chronicled in Andrews' remarkable narrative, imperialistically titled The New Conquest of Central Asia. Andrews was a serious scientist but...

The Western Frontier

After various frustrations and delays our sprawling caravan threaded through Almas Canyon and at last limped into Naran Bulak late in the afternoon of July 21. Naran Bulak, as in previous years, would be our base camp. Dashzeveg even rented a ger for us, for a few dollars for three weeks of use. From here various parties would strike out to prospect. Dashzeveg, Malcolm, and Priscilla could search the rich Cenozoic rocks around the camp, looking for nodules with primitive rodentlike skulls....

Inauspicious Antecedents

Asioryctes

Multis represent the most abundant skulls and skeletons of mammals in the red beds of the Barun Goyot and Djadokhta. But there are other mammals there as well. The C.A.E., as well as the fiercely persistent crawl team under Zofia Kielan-Jaworowska, turned up the precious remains of mammals representing the roots of our own heritage. Our primary targets for Cretaceous mammals of the Gobi are these more modern mammals, like Zalambdalestes found at Tugrugeen and various sites, and the small family...

Back To The Bonanza

Bones picked an age ago, And the bones rise up and go. One day in the spring of 1994 my assistant Barbara Werscheck some of my colleagues call her my boss alerted me to a message from Mark Norell, whose office at the American Museum of Natural History is in the Childs Frick Wing, the edifice for the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology. Mark called. He wants you to come over to his office. My research office is actually next to Mark's, but at that moment I was buried in museum business at the...

Taking Temperatures

Food is digested to keep the body working. In the process, some energy is lost in the form of heat. This simple equation is also related to the metabolism of sauropods and other dinosaurs. Indeed, the question of dinosaur activity as related to their internal body temperature is at the top of the list of all dinosaur controversies. The debate seems all the more engaging be cause of what we know about the stark differences in metabolism among living vertebrate animals. Lizards, crocodiles, and...

The Khulsan Dragon

Pinacosaurus

Breakfast the next morning was brief. My field journal notes listed taking out Bayer's ankylosaur skull, removing Mark's egg nest, and jacketing my small theropod limb as things to do before hiking north to prospect further. But Mark and I had barely begun trenching around the ankylosaur skull before Malcolm came running with the news that he had found a theropod skull. We dropped our trenching tools and ran after him. Pinacosaurus Ed Heck, reprinted with permission, AMNH Pinacosaurus Ed Heck,...

Desert Serpents

Our productive days at Tugrugeen had lulled us into a pleasant routine get up, prospect, find superb fossils, catalogue them, eat, relax, sleep, and begin again the next day. We had become residents of Tugrugeen, planting our camp at the base of the beige sand dune. When driving back from a water run to the spring at Bulgan we could sight this sand dune next to our temporary home from more than a mile away. But we all knew that the rhythm would soon be broken. Our next stop was the Nemegt...

Arid Lands

The carnage described above is one scenario for what happened at an oasis in the dunes some 80 million years ago in the vast sand deserts of Central Asia. We can reconstruct the rigors and dangers of an ancient desert based on our present-day knowledge of these arid lands. Deserts today make up only about five percent of the world's land surface. To be in one, though, is to be lost in a universe of infinite space and emptiness. Deserts especially deserts like the Sahara or the Gobi inspire...

The Great Egg Hunt

Dinosaurs whether meat-eaters, termite-feeders, or vegetarians whether solitary or social whether hot-blooded or cold-blooded all, of course, had something in common. They all had mortal lives with a beginning and an end. Like other organisms, they were born, they grew up, they mated, they reproduced, and they died. But why state the obvious How could it be otherwise I bring the matter up because even the simplest and most straightforward facts of life are not always immediately retrievable in...

The Cretaceous Disaster

Natural phenomena involving lethal clouds or atmospheric upheaval have been implicated in more far-ranging catastrophes of the past than dust storms in the Cretaceous Gobi. Perhaps the most famous of these examples concerns a theory for dinosaur extinction itself. First off, it's important to discriminate what I've just been discussing namely, mass death events at a particular time and place from mass extinction events in which whole species or a great spectrum of species are completely...

Primeval Predators

Primeval Croc Runs

There is of course another kind of aggression in dinosaurs and other creatures, one that has more to do with basic survival, and with it culinary needs, than with social dominance. All those big herbivores those hadrosaurs, sauropods, and ankylosaurs of the Gobi and elsewhere were potential food items for predators. Theropods like Tyrannosaurus and its Gobi cousin Tarbosaurus represent the extreme in this predatory lifestyle. As noted earlier, the skulls in some of these monsters are more than...

Chapter Dinosaur Dream Time

Protoceratops is related . . . The use of horns and frills in protoceratopsids and other neoceratopsians is discussed in Dodson, P., and Currie, P. J., 1990. Neoceratopsia, pp. 593-618. In Weishampel et al. eds. , op. cit. p. 55. In Velociraptor the skull. . . The basic description of the dromaeosaur skeleton in Os-born, 1924, op. cit., has been expanded considerably by Ostrom, J. H., 1990. Dro-maeosauridae, pp. 269-79. In ibid. A vivid accounting is also given in Norell, M. A., Gaffney,...

Coelurosauria Maniraptora Avialae Aves

Where does something like Archaeopteryx go in this classification It might be tempting simply to say that Archaeopteryx is a bird and should naturally go under the formal category Aves. But the problem is trickier because of some recent developments in the theory of classification. To dispatch Archaeopteryx properly, I must first digress a bit and mention those recent arguments. Traditionally, ranks of the Linnaean hierarchy call for a general name a species belongs to a genus, a genus to a...

The Odd Bird

There is yet another of our Gobi discoveries that bears on the origins and early evolution of birds. This is Mononykus, the new animal first discovered by the Soviet-Mongolian expeditions, then by Malcolm at Tu-grugeen, and subsequently by other members of our team from Ukhaa Tolgod and various localities. As I noted, Mononykus appears to be a bird. It was, nonetheless, a very odd bird. Although it has no wings, it has several features that suggest a closer relationship with modern birds than...

Sugar Mountain

On July 9,1994, Amy and I found ourselves crouching over a little mound of red rock at Ukhaa Tolgod, high in the saddle between the saggy Camel's Humps and the steep sandy rampart above Ankylosaur Flats. The day was as beautiful as any I've ever seen in the Gobi. The sky was deep blue and converging on black, with cumulus clouds so white and sharply shadowed that they looked as if they were about to land. The wind was gentle, and rather cool and bracing. That small skull came out of here, Amy...

Flying Dinosaurs And Hopeful Monsters

Cladogram Dinosaurs Birds Simple

I believe there were no flowers then, In the world where the humming-bird flashed ahead of creation. I believe he pierced the slow vegetable veins with his long beak. Probably he was big As mosses and little lizards, they say, were once big, Probably he was a jabbing terrifying monster. We look at him through the wrong end of the long telescope of Time, Luckily for us. D. H. LAWRENCE. 1929. Humming-Bird Ukhaa Tolgod gave us dinosaur eggs and embryos, theropod skeletons, and mammals galore. Back...

The Bitter Road

Bayandalay, a small village just south of the Gurvan Saichan, had none of the charms of Bulgan, the spring-fed village to the north of the range near the Flaming Cliffs. The buildings of decaying plaster were pockmarked by sand and wind, like Cretaceous cliffs. The few people looked equally sandblasted and rather sullen, with more than the usual drunks on the streets, given the late morning hour. A Lonely Planet travel book on Mongolia includes the observation that some towns have so many...

The Terrain Of Eons

I pace upon the battlements and stare On the foundations of a house, or where Tree, like a sooty finger, starts to the earth Under the day's declining beam, and call For I would ask a question of them all. Paleontologists have only certain battlements upon which to pace. Although fossil-iferous rocks take them on a global hunt, they are found in only particular places in these widely scattered destinations. Tropical jungles are not good places for such rocks. Their lush vegetation conceals the...

Acknowledgments

To write about our continuing exploration of the Gobi Desert an adventure that is still unfolding is rather odd, as if my reflection on the serendipity behind various events and discoveries had anything to do with predicting the future of our efforts. Nonetheless, enough has been experienced to justify my recollection. I also felt the sheer panic of loosing vivid feelings and images before I could flesh them out in any form beyond random notes in my field journals. As a result, I had the sheer...

Dinosaur Dream Time

Velociraptor

Time and date an afternoon, the late cretaceous period some eighty million years ago. locality a small valley, in what is now called flaming cliffs, in central asia. The landscape is, on first inspection, familiar. A meandering stream empties into a pool of stagnant water. A cluster of small shrubs, alive with perennialflowers, dots a nearby hill. In the distance are a line of pink dunes that form the apron of a set of cliffs. The water surface is broken from time to time with the smooth...

The Return To Xanadu

After a glorious year of sifting through our treasures from Ukhaa Tolgod, we were hot to return to the site in the 1994 season. By the late spring of that year the locality had become rather famous. John Wilford had written a detailed account of the discovery for the New York Times which was widely released by papers and media internationally. Now we were ready for a more heralded return. Our team was bigger than the 1993 crew, but not unwieldy. Lowell rejoined us, this time with our friend...

Paleoautopsy

The scenario offered in the opening of this chapter, like others offered in this book, and for that matter numerous other books about prehistoric life, is primarily a product of imagination. On the other hand, there are clues left by the rocks and the bones, undeniable signs, that compel us to at least consider the possibility that wind and sand had a profound impact on the life, death, and certainly the entombment of these Cretaceous creatures. The first clue resides in the spectacular...

The Abominable Canyon

Soon even the Mongolians got tired of poking and taunting the poor viper that sought refuge in the scrub near the trucks. We proceeded up the pass and into the mouth of what we hoped was our abominable canyon. After an hour of driving in the steep horseshoe bends of the wash it looked like the right canyon we expected to see an almas waving its shaggy arms at us around the next bend. As it turned out, though, both Dashzeveg and I were right. His choice was indeed a tributary ofAlmas Canyon, one...

High Society

Saurolophus

Whatever the pace of their metabolism, and their capacity for regulating body temperatures, we can be confident that dinosaurs were highly active creatures. The upright postures, the long legs planted firmly under the body, and whiplike tails all suggest muscle power, dynamic bursts of movement, and as in the case of dinosaurs like the small theropods lithe, bounding grace. But did dinosaurs act alone or with others In some ways this is an even more difficult question to address than those...