The day Peter and Phil die and go to dinosaur bone heaven!

With some lingering difficulty bureaucratic red tape was at last put behind us and filming began. Our quarry site was located in farm country on the outskirts of Zhucheng, not much more than 15 minutes ride from our hotel. Here in 1973, scientists from the Beijing Geological Museum collected a gigantic hadrosaur or duck-billed dinosaur, which was named Shantungosaurus. Last year work began on another quarry over the hill from the first one. It was this site that Phil and I visited today. We had the good fortune to be joined by Dr. Xu Xing of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP). The IVPP is China’s flagship institute for paleontology, roughly equivalent to the Smithsonian in the U.S. Xu Xing is a delightful young man who in the last 10 years has described more new kinds of dinosaurs than anyone who has ever lived. How great to have him with us, even though it was only for today.

Xu Xing, Phil Manning and Peter Dodson

Xu Xing, Phil Manning and Peter Dodson

What we saw and filmed today is absolutely stunning. A year’s worth of excavation has exposed a quarry face that is jammed with bones, more than 6000 exposed to date. Like Dinosaur National Monument, the quarry face dips steeply, which enhances the visibility of bones for the visitor. Unlike Dinosaur National Monument, which is a paltry 100 meter or so long, the exposed quarry runs on for more than 500 meters! There is simply nothing else like it anywhere in the world. Arguably there are bonebeds in Montana and Alberta that are larger in extent, but they have not been excavated for public viewing, and the size and quality of the bones do not compare. Shantungosaurus is a sauropod in hadrosaur clothing, or as Phil puts it, “A sauropod masquerading as a hadrosaur.” The bones are immense. I could not resist pulling out a measuring tape and recording bone lengths. Femurs ranged from 1.5 to 1.6 meters in length, the size of a respectable Camarasaurus. Ribs were 1.6. meters long. The largest humeri were more than a meter long. I found a sauropod in Montana 10 years ago whose humerus was a paltry 75 cm long. This dinosaur was immense! Phil and I clambered all over the deposit photographing and measuring as much as we cold, but in a couple of hours we cold only scratch the surface. It was painful to be called off the surface. We will be back tomorrow, and Phil still has a couple of tricks up his sleeve.

The Zhucheng bonescape

The Zhucheng bonescape

As Sally and Pip were called to take one for the team last night, Phil and I accompanied Xu Xing into the lion’s den tonight by dining with the dread director of tourism Mr. Wang. I was reluctant to go as I was falling off my chair with fatigue, and Phil is nursing pulmonary problems and taking a course of pred. Nonetheless, for our friend Xu’s sake, we agreed to go, stipulating that we did not want to drink baijiu, and that Phil was compromised in respiration and did not want to be fumigated with tobacco smoke. So we went with Xu Xing and had a splendid time. Mr. Wang was very convivial, and he and I ended up best buds. We drank a decent red wine from Shandong rather than baijiu, and the food was sensational, among the finest dinners I have eaten in China (and I have eaten a few!). Among the guests were five comely maidens who work for the bureau of tourism, and they did their part in consuming baijiu and coming around to offer toasts , either of hongputaojiu, the red wine we were drinking, or of baijiu, the white alcohol of legend. Halfway through the wonderful meal I remarked to Phil at my right that we were getting off easy. Later on I conceded to him that, relatively weak as the red wine was, I was definitely feeling the poorer after all these toasts. Nonetheless, I parted on the very best of terms with Mr. Wang, who considered me his brother and who told me he would appoint me to the scientific advisory panel of the dinosaur site. My Chinese is rudimentary but I know just enough to make diplomatic statements at the right time. It was a great evening to conclude a great day!


Peter Dodson, Phil Manning and Mr. Wang

Peter Dodson, Phil Manning and Mr. Wang

And now a word from Dr. Phil Manning:

My humble apologies for leading Peter astray this evening, but he was both willing and wonderful company. The Sino-American ‘en tant cordial’ was well and truly mastered by Peter. Attached are images that are testament to the fact.

I have little, again, to add to Peter’s fine prose….other than we both hope to forge and foster a long and fruitful research collaboration with Dr Xi Xing and his wonderful colleagues in Zhucheng. Tonight I learnt much about the concept of moderation, when it comes to hospitality…. Peter, was a gem and stepped forward once more to take one for the team and indulge in a phylogenetic spaghetti soup….that I am sure he is still digesting.  I had no idea that Holothuroidean soup could be so slimy in a swamp of pureed corn…..yum!

Bureau of Tourism dinner

Bureau of Tourism dinner

The sites we both saw today were simply gob-smacking. I have never seen so much dinosaur bone wantonly strewn across a paleo-surface, as we saw today. Tarzan’s elephant graveyard pales into insignificance when it comes to what Zhucheng has to offer from the sands of time. Here frozen in time is a catastrophic moment that saw the demise and entombment of many hundreds, if not thousands of animals…all unpleasantly dismembered by the taphonomic mill that is the fossil record. What is so remarkable, they have been lovingly excavated, prepared and conserved for one and all to ogle. In my 20 + years as a palaeontologist I have had the luck to see some amazing sites, but few compare to Zhucheng. I hold my breathe for the remainder of the sino-dino-tour… my stomach is developing Kevlar capabilities as the tour progresses… where did I put those Alka-Seltzer 🙂

Paleontological best wishes,

Dr. Dodson filmed at the Zhucheng bonescape.

Dr. Dodson filmed at the Zhucheng bonescape.



  1. Hillary I. said,

    October 15, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Hi Peter!

    Naomi says: that’s so cool! that’s awesome!
    Jacob says: hi! where did you go out to dinner? also, I wrote about you in my homework today!
    Lilah says: i hope you have fun.

    I say: can’t wait til you have this in the can and on the air. Sounds great. Travel safely and have fun!

  2. Kate said,

    October 15, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    Wishing you both the best. Thanks for sending us updates of your great adventures. Wish you needed a p.r. person on site…..

  3. Sabine Harrington said,

    October 15, 2009 at 9:29 pm


    It is so good to hear that you are having a fruitful adventure! I was just thinking of writing you to get an update, but you posted this fun blog so I didn’t have to! That bonescape is so amazing the way it is sheltered. It must be aweing to be right next to those femurs!

  4. Lucy Pope said,

    October 16, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    Dear Peter,
    How wonderful! It makes one wonder about the spectacular cataclysmic event that occurred all those millions of years ago. How wonderful for us that it happened (not so great for the dinosaurs). I also wanted to mention that I was heartily amused by your recent driving adventures in England!

  5. Matt Lamanna said,

    October 16, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    Hey Boss! Thanks for letting me know of your blog. Wow, the Zhucheng site looks amazing! Have fun, take care, and we’ll be in touch soon. Cheers!

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