By Hannah Wilson

The MSU students are back in China, where they explore 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 will be 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

Ni Hao! We just hit the halfway mark of our time in China! The past few days have been spent in the Tiantai Basin, about two hours away from our “home base” of Hangzhou, where the museum is located. Today was our fifth day of fieldwork, and the third site visited looking for dinosaur eggs, bones, trace fossils, and measuring sections of strata.

Eggs found on previous trips were photographed and documented, and some fragments were collected for later analysis. Lots of GPS location numbers were recorded so future teams could return to the good spots we have found so far.

Our days have been beginning at around 7:30 AM (which is 5:30 PM the previous day in MT time), giving us enough time to skype friends and family, eat breakfast, and board the van that transports us to our field sites. We spend the morning starting strata section measurements and prospecting until lunch around 11:30.

We’ve been eating at “fast food” places where we’re given metal trays and get to pick out (from a street vendor) different dishes of potatoes, vegetables, rice, and tofu to eat in a tiny hole-in-the-wall dining area. Around 12:30 or 1 we head back to the field, reload our water bottles at the van, and spend the rest of the day tromping through crazy bushes looking for bones and eggshell. By the end of the day we’re very hungry and sweaty, and usually don’t have much time to change before our 6 PM dinner, which we devour before passing out in our rock hard beds.

Almost everyone has found something so far during our time in the field. Danny found isolated fragments the first day in “Graveyard Hills,” the first site we visited in the Tiantai Basin, and on the second day both he and Heather each found two more eggs! Anita was the first person to find bone on our trip, so that was exciting for everyone. Paul and Michael have found lots of trace fossils, like pupa cases, worm burrows, or root systems, which provide us with valuable information about the paleo-environment.

I found some more bone fragments yesterday along with Wenjie, one of our Chinese colleagues from the museum, and today Christian found a big chunk of eggshell on the roadcut we were working on “behind the beer factory,” just a few minutes down the road from our hotel. The others have made huge contributions by putting those finds in context with their strata section measurements.

The weather has been great – it rained for most of the first day in the field (Saturday), and a bit more today, but other than that we all have the sunburns to prove the weather’s been very nice. We leave Tiantai Basin tomorrow to explore another rich site of eggs – Dongyong Basin, which is a two-hour drive away.

We’re very excited about visiting these two locations on our trip because most of the eggs we’ve been ogling in the basement of the Zhejiang Museum the past few weeks have come from Tiantai and Dongyang, and it is very neat to view them in their original field context rather than in plastic tubs in the dark collections room of the museum.

Hannah Wilson: I have been interested in this research experience ever since my first weekend at Montana State last August, when I saw a presentation about it at an honors weekend retreat. Being a freshman, and unsure of what I wanted to study, I took a dinosaurs class and began egg research with Dr. Jackson during the fall semester. While my career plans are focused on law, communication, and policy, I really value an interdisciplinary education and I hope to concentrate my research in the earth sciences and paleontology and to participate in undergraduate research in some capacity every year during my time here at MSU. I’m grateful to Frankie Jackson and Dave Varricchio for this opportunity, as well as the Honors Program and the MSU Vice President for Research Internship for funding my research experiences and supporting me in expanding my academic horizons. In my spare time, I ride on the MSU Equestrian team, show horses locally, travel, attend live music shows, and enjoy playing the alto saxophone in the MSU jazz ensemble.

Hannah Wilson


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