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Concordia Students Explore China’s Fossil Treasures

December, 2009
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“There’s an easy way to tell if you have found a fossil or a rock. If you lick a fossil, it will taste salty and feel sticky.” So reported Concordia High School students after their September 2009 Interim Dinosaur Fossil Dig in China’s Gansu province, where these students did in fact get up-close and personal with dinosaur fossils.

ciss-fossils-1sAssistant High School Principal of Activities and co-Interim leader Patrick Frerking began exploring the possibility of a fossil dig six years ago. While on an Interim course in 2005, a chance meeting with world-renowned paleontologist Dr. You Hailu at the Gansu Provincial Museum in Lanzhou propelled the plan into action.

In late September 2009, the students traveled from Shanghai to the Fossil Research and Development Center of Geo-Exploration about an hour from the province’s capital city of Lanzhou. Dr. You provided the group with training and accompanied the group to the field work site at the Zhongpu Dinosaur Quarries.

“Before the course, we advised the students to have low expectations,” recalled co-Interim leader and Concordia High School science teacher Joel Klammer. “We didn’t know what to expect. Maybe we’d find some small bone fragments.”

Upon arriving at the Zhongpu Dinosaur Quarries, the group’s 21 students - accompanied by Frerking and Klammer - were directed to the top of a mountain that had been partially cut out. A fossil from a pelvic girdle had previously been found in the area. The fossil of a spine bone—about 40 centimeters (16 inches) long—was already exposed, and they were directed to begin to digging in that area.

With picks, hammers, chisels and shovels in action, the group began to unearth much more than had been expected.

“We uncovered a neck vertebra of a sauropod [dinosaurs with long necks, like the brontosaurus, belong to this family]. It measured more than 75 centimeters [30 inches], which is bigger than the largest one found to date, which is 70 cm,” Frerking said.

The huge fossil was not completely excavated during the students’ seven-day Interim. Instead, Dr. You and his team re-covered the bones with a light layer of dirt and, one month later, a National Geographic film crew arrived to film the site. The Zhongpu Dinosaur Quarries and this particular fossil will be included in a National Geographic special to be aired in mid-2010.   

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