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Unearthing a Titan

December, 2010
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titan-1sIt is undoubtedly rare to touch a 100 million year old dinosaur fossil. It is even rarer to excavate one yourself. After I returned from my Interim trip to Lanzhou, countless friends and family asked, “What was it like to hold a dinosaur fossil?” How was I to respond? In all honesty, a fossil is almost indistinguishable from a rock. Yet fossils are so much more. Not only are they remnants of a past age when dinosaurs roamed the earth, but fossils are also windows into our planet’s ancient history.

A team of fourteen students and two teachers from Concordia International School Shanghai embarked on a week-long expedition in Gansu Province to uncover a dinosaur. We had every reason to be excited, considering the unparalleled opportunity to excavate dinosaur fossils with Dr. Hailu You, an internationally-renowned paleontologist who has alone named 12 dinosaur species. After an arduous hike up a 2,000 meter high mountain, we arrived at the remote dig site south of Lanzhou, where a dinosaur had lain undisturbed beneath meters of stone. Within minutes, the sounds of ancient history being unearthed resounded through the ravine.

It was a teamwork experience in every way, as it required the combined efforts of the entire group to gradually chip away at the unyielding stone. Faced with a veritable army of hammers, chisels, and brushes, the fossils were slowly excavated, and we realized that what lay before us was a sauropod. These titans were the largest land animals to have ever walked the earth, and may have reached nearly 60 meters in length. It was incredible to realize that we were bringing the bones into light they had not seen since the dinosaur took its final steps 100 million years ago.

titan-3sAfter three days of strenuous but rewarding work, the fossils were finally freed from the stone, plastered, and transported to a preparation lab where they would be readied for study or display. Before the final trek down the mountain, our team took a last look at the dinosaur we had worked so hard to release from its stone tomb. We realized then that it wasn’t a final parting, as the sauropod that we had unearthed would one day be immortalized within the halls of a museum; once again inspiring awe and reverence as it would have in its own time.

Looking back, the week I spent on uncovering a dinosaur was truly an unforgettable and unique blend of learning, teamwork, service, and leadership, and was an once-in-a-lifetime chance that every member of the group felt enriched by. The team returned home with new knowledge and understanding after an immersion into the world of dinosaurs and fossils. Learning aside, the trip was an opportunity to get to know people better, to strengthen and forge new friendships, and was altogether an extraordinary week. After all, what wouldn’t the kid inside each of us give to excavate a real dinosaur? In the end, words can only begin to describe the full scope of our experience. Years from now, when other recollections have grown dim, this trip will remain a clear memory, ever a shining light in the murky past -  just like the titan we unearthed.


By Jonathan Tan,

Grade 10, Concordia International School Shanghai

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