By Daniel Barta

The MSU students are back from China, where they explored the culture, look for fossils, and study dinosaur eggs in the laboratory.

Selected college students from across Montana travel to the Zhejiang Province of China on a National Science Fund program from May 17 - June 19, 2012. The students were exposed to the culture and people of China as a way of broadening their worldview. The cultural exposure is secondary, however, to the research and study of dinosaur eggs at the Zhejiang Natural History Museum. This now marks the third year for this program and the 2012 research team consists of Dr. David Varricchio, Hannah Wilson, Michael Bustamante, Ian Underwood, Paul Germano, Heather Davis, Anita Moore-Nall, Bob Rader, Danny Barta, and Christian Heck

Danny Barta unsuspectingly steps in front of a Monolophosaurus in front of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

Danny Barta unsuspectingly steps in front of a Monolophosaurus in front of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

With our data collection and preliminary research papers completed, we set out for a final weekend excursion to Beijing. In addition to sightseeing, our trip included a visit to the Institute for Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), the national paleontology museum of China. While there, we had the opportunity to view the exhibits on fossil eggs, in which we saw some of the first Spheroolithus clutches ever described, whose characteristics contribute to the definition of the oogenus and are important for comparison with the collection of Spheroolithus eggs we’ve examined for the past few weeks at the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History. Other interesting egg exhibits included a rare pterosaur egg with a preserved embryo, and a variety of other eggs types such as Ovaloolithus and Dictyoolithus, known only from Asia.

The entrance to the Forbidden City.

The entrance to the Forbidden City.

We were all grateful for the opportunity to visit several important cultural sites within and around Beijing. Taken individually or collectively, their scale is overwhelming. Tiananmen Square’s vast expanse, the hushed silence and well-guarded peace of the Mao Zedong Mausoleum, the intricacies of Ming and Qing Dynasties’ imperial architecture at the Forbidden City, and finally, the dizzying heights of the Great Wall at Badaling swathed equally in smooth stone, gregarious tourists, and late afternoon mist. On a culinary note, the delicious fried scorpions sold at the night market were not to be missed, either.

A full blog post could probably be written about each of these sites and more, but perhaps it is sufficient to reflect on the collective experience of the group’s visit to Beijing. China’s capital is where history has a prominent place in the here and now, whether one tours a meticulously preserved symbol of imperial supremacy or simply walks back to the hotel along a hutong side street – neighborhoods that remained essentially unchanged as waves of social and political upheaval crashed around them. Visiting Beijing is a singular look at a modern Chinese city at once coming to terms with its past and lifting itself toward a future of its own unique making.

The Great Wall rises and fades into the fog-covered mountains.

The Great Wall rises and fades into the fog-covered mountains.

Persevering through a whirlwind pace and near 100-degree temperatures in Beijing, the group has arrived at the end of its Chinese journey. However, our studies of dinosaur reproductive biology will continue at our home colleges and universities. We leave excited about what the museum and field data gathered this trip might reveal. As scientific collaboration between our countries grows, there has never been a more exciting time for students like us to travel to China.

The hutong side streets buzzing with activity in the morning.

The hutong side streets buzzing with activity in the morning.

Though this is the last blog post, we continue to appreciate reader comments and questions, and will endeavor to respond quickly. We look forward to seeing friends and loved ones again soon! Thank you again to the National Science Foundation, Drs. David Varricchio and Frankie Jackson, and the staff of the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History!

Zaijian for now,

The 2012 NSF/IRES Dinosaur Eggs and Education Group

Images: Christian Heck

About the Author:

Daniel Barta: I am from Helena, Montana, and am a senior in the Earth Sciences Department at Montana State University. My time at MSU has allowed me to develop my emerging passions for paleontological research and public outreach. My research interests include the evolution, classification, and preservation of fossil eggs and eggshell. A 2010 National Science Foundation International Research Experience for Students research trip to China ignited my desire to study fossil eggs, as well as conduct further international research collaborations. I plan to attend graduate school at MSU in Fall 2012 to pursue an M.S. in Earth Sciences, and ultimately hope to obtain a Ph.D. and be employed in a research, teaching, or curatorial position at a university or museum. I am an MSU Presidential Scholar, and am also the recipient of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, the most prestigious national scholarship for undergraduates studying science, math, and engineering. I enjoy fieldwork, travel, the outdoors, and spending time with good friends and good books.

Previously in this series:

MSU China Paleontology Expedition: Team Progress Update

MSU Dinosaurs: An Egg By Any Other Name…

MSU Dinosaurs: introducing the Hatching Window Team

MSU Dinosaurs: Using Taphonomy to Further Understand Clutch Arrangement

MSU Dinosaurs: deformations in eggs

MSU Dinosaurs: Team Strider – Eggshell Thickness Variance

MSU Dinosaurs: Tiantai and Fieldwork in the Rain

MSU Dinosaurs: finding eggs at the Graveyard Hills

MSU Dinosaurs: Down the Rabbit Hole We Go