Fossil Hunting In the Gobi 360
Fossil Hunting In the Gobi 360 - Transcript
MIKE NOVACEK (Curator, Division of Paleontology):
The Gobi Desert is a vast place. It occupies half a million square miles—one of the largest deserts in the world.
The Gobi is also one of the few great, large areas that's a real treasure for dinosaurs, early mammals, and other forms of prehistoric life.
The Central Asiatic Expeditions, headed by Roy Chapman Andrews from the American Museum of Natural History occurred between 1922 and 1930.
Roy Chapman Andrews was one of the most famous explorers in the Museum's history. Roy was the leader. He was the organizer. He was the fundraiser. He was very flamboyant, kind of a dashing explorer figure.
The Central Asiatic Expeditions were a massive, massive undertaking—over 120 camels, 40 scientists and technicians. It was the first time that an expedition extensively used motorcars. So, it was a very elaborate and a highly organized effort.
This is not a hospitable place, the Gobi Desert, and in the 1920s, a very poorly mapped, a very poorly known region.
It really presented a lot of challenges, and a lot of dangers to the expedition—sandstorms, and dust storms, and high winds. There are poisonous snakes. There were bandits, and it's hard to find your way around.
At the very end of the field season in 1922, Roy Chapman Andrews and the expedition were lost. Roy and some members of the team got out of their vehicles to ask for directions. But while they were doing that, their cameraman Shackleford walked over to the edge of this plateau and looked down, and he saw this amazing array of red cliffs, the Flaming Cliffs.
Shackleford walked down, and he started to find fossils. And then he was joined by other members of the team, and they started crawling around, and they started finding all this stuff. But it was already the end of the season, and they knew they had to come back.
Well, they did come back in 1923, and the rest is history. They found all these dinosaurs there—protoceratops, oviraptors, the dinosaur nest eggs, and some very small, very important fossil mammals.
So, this is a very, very important area evolutionarily speaking because it preserves the best evidence of these early mammals that give us clues to how modern mammals evolved and branched out and diversified into all the wondrous kinds of mammals we see today.
I'm Mike Novacek, Provost of Science and a curator of paleontology here at the American Museum of Natural History.
On the shelves around us, you see a lot of fossils. Many of these fossils were collected by the Central Asiatic Expeditions in the 1920s to the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, that were led by Roy Chapman Andrews.
And the important thing about these specimens is that we're still making discoveries about them. There's more to learn. So, even specimens that were discovered many, many years ago are still inspiring new and original work in the science of paleontology.
“This is not a hospitable place, the Gobi Desert. And in the 1920s, [it was] a very poorly mapped, a very poorly known region.”
-Mike Novacek, Curator, Division of Paleontology
Join a 1920s fossil-hunting expedition to the Gobi Desert with Roy Chapman Andrews, then step into the Museum’s modern-day collections with paleontologist Mike Novacek to discover how these finds are studied today.