Land of the Fossil

June 14, 2010

Torah Kachur

Science in Seconds On Location: Torah in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.


Ever wonder who the real Indiana Jones was?  Meet Roy Chapman Andrews - one of a few intrepid explorers named as inspirations for our hero-scientist Dr. Jones. 


Roy Chapman Andrews was the one-time director of the American Natural History Museum and the first explorer that looked for fossils in the vast Gobi desert of Mongolia.  During his expeditions in the 1920's, he discovered the first ever fossilized dinosaur eggs, then attributed to Protoceratops but were later revealed to be that of a type of velociraptor, called Oviraptor.   Since then, the Mongolian desert has been a treasure-trove of dinosaur fossils - from a cemetary of 187 Psittacosaurus fossils found in 2007 to the famous fighting dinosaurs of Mongolia - now on exhibit at the AMNH Museum  that captured a Velociraptor and Protoceratops in a fierce death grip.

        Torah Kachur Science in Seconds Blog Fighting Dinosaurs Mongolia Velociraptor Protoceratops

But what is it about the Gobi that makes it such a pristine fossil paradise?  First - its dry.  I mean seriously dry.  I've been drinking 3 liters of water a day and I'm still constantly parched.  Second - there is sand.  Sandstorms can kick up in seconds and bury everything in its wake (including your precious guidebook).  And finally - the crazy climate variations allow seasons of complete dryness followed by flash floods.


To make a fossil (clearly they are manmade by someone testing our faith) you need to replace the organic matter of bone and teeth with inorganic minerals.  This process follows a pretty simple recipe:  One organism that just kicked the bucket, then lots of sand to cover the corpse to prevent further decay.  Finally, a dash of water that percolates through the sand to wash in the minerals contained in sand.  And millions of years.


And voila!  Fossilized remains waiting to be discovered by the next adventurous soul.  Just think - your discovery could give fodder to creationists who make up stories like this one to explain the appearance of these messages from the past.  Yes,, it was obviously the biblical flood that killed the dinosaurs, obviously.


Shocked?  Don't be, in the immortal words of the sexiest scientist ever dreamed "Nothing shocks me.  I'm a scientist"  (Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, 1984).



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