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2nd Creature Was Meat-Eater : Fossil Remains of Huge Dinosaur Found in China

October 23, 1987|DAVID HOLLEY | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING — For children and grown-ups who love dinosaurs and delight in learning their tongue-twisting names, a challenge has emerged from the western reaches of the Gobi Desert.

It is the jiangjunmiaosaurus, a ferocious, meat-eating creature nearly 20 feet in length. Discovery of its bones was announced Thursday in Beijing by a Sino-Canadian team of paleontologists.

The team also announced the discovery of the fossil remains of the largest sauropod, a suborder of the gigantic vegetarian brontosaurus, ever discovered in Asia.

A five-foot-long neck vertebra indicates that the sauropod, which lived about 160 million years ago and whose fossilized bones are still being unearthed, was about 90 feet long and weighed perhaps 60,000 pounds, the scientists said.

This, according to Dong Zhiming, the top dinosaur researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is enough to push into second place the former Asian champion, which was 72 feet long and was dug up in 1957 in China's Sichuan province.

U.S. Fossils Bigger

Sites in Colorado and East Africa have fossils of dinosaurs that were a bit longer and perhaps 20,000 pounds heavier, but many of those fossils are not in good condition, the scientists said.

The Ex Terra Foundation of Edmonton, Canada, organizer of the Sino-Canadian dinosaur project, plans to use some of the specimens in an exhibition that will be sent to museums around the world, perhaps beginning in two or three years.

The 30-member team of Chinese and Canadian paleontologists spent August and September digging at Jiangjunmiao, which is translated as Temple of the General, in western China's Xinjiang autonomous region.

Thus the name of the new carnivorous species means "Dinosaur of the General's Temple." The temple, which no longer stands, was built to memorialize a Han Dynasty general who perished in the desert with his soldiers about 2,000 years ago while trying to protect a northern branch of the Silk Road, said Dale Russell, curator of paleobiology at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Ottawa.

Phillip Currie, assistant director of the Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, Canada, said the newly unearthed jiangjunmiaosaurus is a "marvelous specimen" because "it is virtually uncrushed, which means we can just take the bones and they fit together."

This jiangjunmiaosaurus appears to be the second specimen of a single species. Currie said the first partial skeleton was unearthed nearby in 1983.

Currie was especially excited about some two-inch ankle bones, which he said are seldom preserved as dinosaur bones fossilize. He said they provide valuable information about the evolution of different species.

"We have trouble relating these dinosaurs to one another unless we have the right parts," he said.

He displayed a small plastic bag of assorted fossil teeth, claws and vertebrae from the General's Temple site, and said, "These bones are all recognizable as Alberta dinosaurs.

"The indications we have are that we're only scratching the surface here," Currie said.

Western Canada and China have two of the greatest dinosaur fossil fields in the world, and one of the project's goals is to better understand the links between North American and Chinese dinosaurs, the scientists said.

Excavations will resume in China and Canada next year.

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