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MSU China Paleontology Expedition–New season starts with division of egg duties, petrified trees, soybean Popsicles

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Editor’s Note: MSU China Paleontology Expedition is a project led by Frankie D. Jackson and David J. Varricchio, professors in the Department of Earth Sciences, Dinosaur Paleontology at Montana State University and Jin Xingsheng, paleontologist and Vice Director of the Zhejiang Natural History Museum in Hangzhou, China. This is the second year this program sent students – primarily from small junior and tribal colleges – to China for paleontological work. This year’s students are currently in China, studying dinosaur eggs, as well as Chinese culture.

As a new season begins, a little introduction is most likely required. We are a group of students from Montana universities that are here in China to study dinosaur eggs. Quite fascinating really, especially when you consider how absolutely plentiful dinosaur eggs are in China! Some of the first eggs ever discovered were found in Asia. We are the second year, of what will be a total of three years, experiencing this fantastic research opportunity.

Our group in Shanghai. (Photo by Frankie Jackson).

Wednesday began the first day of research, and also the first day of blue skies and sunshine, which we haven’t seen since our layover in Seattle; something we all found to be quite ironic. Tuesday was spent breaking up into pairs and brainstorming research questions, which proved to be a bit of a challenge. Unlike the group last year, only two of us are paleontology majors; however that has not stopped anyone from seeking a better understanding of their chosen research project.

In the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History (Photo by Josette Wooden Legs).

We split up into four groups, each researching a different topic. Josette and Tyler are quantifying eggshell thinning; Hannah and Christi are describing egg clutches; Jobe and Amanda are looking at cracking/fracturing of the eggs; Bryan and I are attempting to identify hatching windows within the eggs.

Zhejiang Museum of Natural History (Photo by Josette Wooden Legs).

Part of Tuesday was also spent exploring the Zhejiang Natural History Museum. The first hall we entered was filled with polished petrified tree trunks on pedestals. But the best part was the petrified tree trunk that spanned the entire length of the room. None of us could believe it! We were simply all in awe, which is actually what can be said for much of what we’ve seen in China.

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday morning we toured around Shanghai. Saturday we wandered around the town led by Ash and a guidebook. We visited the pedestrian mall shopping district, supposedly one of the most famous in the world, as well as an art museum where we admired the paintings of the Chinese artist Wu Changshuo. His style can be described as traditional Chinese paintings, but with a bit of a 20th century touch.

Chinese paintings. (Photo by Josette Wooden Legs).

Along the way we sampled the most interesting food and Popsicle flavors that we could find, such as red bean and soybean. Often times we didn’t have a clue what we were eating, which was actually a fun experience. We sampled duck neck, and possibly calamari, or any sort of "meat-on-a-stick" they had to offer, everything was simply delicious.

Meat on a stick. (Photo by Josette Wooden Legs).

Most of Sunday was spent exploring a historic river town. We took buses on the way there, an entertaining time for those of us who attempting to "surf" the buses, something we also did on the way back but on the subway. The streets of the river town were crowded with people, and the smell of all types of food drifted through the air. We eagerly explored the sights it had to offer such as the cotton mill, miniature museum, memorial halls, and the shadow puppet museum; which was probably the group’s favorite.

A few of us (Ash, Jobe, and myself) split off to investigate a pagoda we saw off in the distance. It turned out to be a monastery, and after entering we approached the pagoda. At its entrance we had to put on special slippers prior to stepping inside; we climbed the seven floors, each one representing a different Buddhist deity. The view was quite fantastic. After descending we entered the monastery just as the monks were starting their chant; the air was thick with the smell of incense, and we were astounded by the overwhelming feeling of calm and peace we were experiencing. There wasn’t any desire to leave that peaceful place, but our time was up.

Rivertown. (Photo by Josette Wooden Legs).

Sunday morning most of the group visited a local propaganda museum that was located in the basement of an apartment complex. Then we took taxis to the train station, which happened to be next to the airport. What a novel idea! The train to Hangzhou traveled at 180 mph, and we could barely believe how quickly we had arrived, especially after hearing that the train trip normally takes several hours.

Group eating. (Photo by Josette Wooden Legs).

Well, we’re just getting started and I know that there will be many more great and entertaining adventures to come. Check back every two days or so for an update on our research and to share our experiences while we are in China.

Random foods. (Photo by Josette Wooden Legs).

About the Author: Betsy Kruk is a senior in paleontology at Montana State University. Originally from Chicago she came out to Montana for the mountains and dinosaurs. Since she was little she has always wanted to be a paleontologist and recently decided to pursue a career as a professor. On a less serious note, she loves to read, run, ride horses and play video games.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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