By Ian Underwood

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

We left for Tiantai Basin yesterday from Hangzhou. It was difficult to leave for fieldwork as we had just got into a rhythm working at the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History, but a pleasant reprieve from the labors of working within doors none-the-less. Before we arrived at the hotel we stopped and had lunch with our colleagues as well as the Director of the museum in Tiantai.

As is customary in Chinese culture we were treated as honored guest, and enjoyed a delicious meal merry with conversation and smiles despite whatever language barriers had separated us. We took the liberty of visiting the Tiantai museum after our lunch and found ourselves in a wonderful museum full of paintings and dinosaurs.

The hotel and the city of Tiantai as a whole are a stark difference between what we had grown accustomed to by visiting Shanghai and then Hangzhou. Tiantai has a more rural feel to it and although bustling and full of people, lacks the industrial and “big city” feel that we had seen in our visits thus far through China.

If I were to choose only one word to describe the setting as I sit and write this blog, peaceful would sum everything up and then more. Surrounded by lush greenery, with forested tropical hills rising around the outskirts, Tiantai truly sits within a basin and is a mish mash of industrial growth and a city still trying to catch up to modern times.

New construction is rampant through out the city, but single lane cobble roads with merchants packed on either side are to be found in the city's heart. The mall we had visited was fashioned in the same way, with vendor after vendor peddling shoes and clothes in stalls stacked one after the other separated by a pathway that two could barely walk abreast. Our hotel sits a short walk from the bustling downtown area and yet seems separated by miles. A small creek flows below the backside of our window and along the other bank small garden plots are tended in sequencing order where the steep hill has been flattened into steps along the bank.

We visited the our first site in the field today, driving along dirt roads that were barely wide enough for the vehicle which we took. The site was named “The Graveyard Site” as it was located within hills that were dotted sporadically with shrines and graves.

It had rained the previous evening (and probably earlier that morning) and the ground was muddy as well as the hillside, making our work somewhat difficult. And it was not the last rain we were to encounter, all throughout the day showers would follow us, starting with a soft mist and slowly turning more steadily into a rain.

We spent the day working within groups with different objectives. Two worked on measuring stratigraphic sections, while a third mapped and described the egg clutches that had been discovered on previous treks.

Measuring stratigraphic sections is mapping the position and angles of sedimentary beds as well as correlating them to the topography of the surrounding area. We were lucky enough to find a few new egg specimens as well as enjoy the day working outside despite however wet and muddy we all got scrambling along the hillsides.

About the Author:

Ian Underwood: I grew up in San Rafael, California, which is just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I transferred to Montana Tech this last year to study Geological

Engineering after working in the health care industry for 4 years. I am an amateur photographer, an avid outdoorsman and an Eagle Scout. This will be my first time travelling overseas as well as my first experience partaking in professional research.

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