Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Adding to the long list of dragons.

In a previous post I wondered if there were any dinosaurs that incorporated the word 'dragon' from languages other than Chinese and Latin. Well, I know I'm a bit late to the party on this one, but I can now add Balaur bondoc to my list of dragon dinosaurs.

Shamelessly stolen from Wikipedia!

Balaur is an archaic Romanian word for dragon, making this perhaps the most metal of all dinosaurs. It's a pretty weird animal, featuring fused up elements in the hand (usually only seen in alvarezsauroids and Avimimus), and an apparently functional first toe (more associated with therizinosaurs than dromaeosaurs) that was similar to the stereotypical sickle-claw. Much of Romania was an island during the Cretaceous and had unusual dinosaurs more closely related to Jurassic taxa than to contemporaneous species. However, the closest relative of Balaur was actually Velociraptor, from the Cretaceous of Mongolia. So, Balaur is just an interesting and strange dinosaur all around.

The Balaur paper can be downloaded here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Gobi Desert Diaries, part 1: Nemegt

Look, fossils! I promised you there’d be dinosaurs on the blog again eventually.

So, for four weeks during the end of August to the middle of September I participated in the fifth field season of the Korea-Mongolia International Dinosaur Project, led by Dr. Yuong-Nam Lee of Korea. The expedition truly was international – we had representatives from Korea, Mongolia, China, Japan, the United States, Argentina, Denmark, and Canada. There were mornings when I was not sure whether to say hello, anyung haseyo, nihao, sain bainu, or whatever.

The first week or so the “Canadian mafia” were out on our own in the Nemegt Basin, until we joined up with the rest of the crew. The photo at the top is of a partial oviraptorosaur skeleton I found on my first day of prospecting. The Gobi totally spoils you – there are few days where you don’t find something interesting.

The Nemegt locality has outcrops of two geological formations, the Nemegt Formation and the Baruungoyot Formation. For a really good review of the geology of the Gobi, I suggest borrowing a copy of “The Age of Dinosaurs in Russia and Mongolia” from your local academic library, if they have it, or look it up on Google Books. Otherwise, it’s available on Amazon, although quite expensive. The Nemegt Formation tends to be a lighter tan or buff colour and represents fluvial systems, whereas the Baruungoyot is the deep red that many people associate with the Gobi and was likely more lacustrine and duney. Both formations are Late Cretaceous in age. The photo above shows Nemegt Formation outcrops.

Here’s an example of the Baruungoyot Formation a few kilometres away from our camp. It’s a very dramatic set of outcrops.

The walk back from the Baruungoyot was long and hot. Premji and I attempted to hitchhike, but sadly there was nobody to pick us up. We did see some camels once we got back into the canyons, although I don’t think they would have been thrilled if we had tried to ride them home.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Back to Ulaanbaatar.

I’m back from the Gobi!

The Korea-Mongolia International Dinosaur Project’s final field season was excellent and I will post some Gobi photos once I get myself sorted out in Edmonton in a few days. Dinosaurs were collected, friends were made, and many miles were walked.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a few photos of some of my favourite Mongolian things, besides the dinosaurs of course. We were able to catch a performance by Tumen Ekh, the national song and dance ensemble. It was fantastic, and showcased many of the different songs and dances of Mongolia. The first photo above is of a Tsam Dancer. Tsam dances are Buddhist ceremonies imported to Mongolia from Tibet, and feature elaborate decorated costumes and giant masks. Our performance had many interesting characters, but my favourite was this fellow, Tshoijoo, God of the Dead and Defender of the Faith.

There were several numbers by singers and the orchestra, which featured the morin khuur (horse-headed fiddles). The singer in this photo is performing a short-form song. There were also examples of long-form singing and throat singing.

One of the most impressive performances was by the contortionists. They are so strong!

That’s all for now – more Mongolia posts in a few days. Cheers all!