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The exciting discovery of dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert

Posted in Dinosaurs, Historical articles, History, Prehistory, Science on Thursday, 6 February 2014

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This edited article about dinosaurs first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 544 published on 17 June 1972.

Young Proctoceratops hatching,  picture, image, illustration

Young Proctoceratops hatching

The great dinosaur ‘rush’ across the immense fossil fields of America which had led to some of Man’s most exciting discoveries about monsters of the earth’s past, had begun to die down by the turn of the century.

Apart from Barnum Brown’s bonanza of dinosaur remains at the beginning of the twentieth century, one more outstanding discovery on the North American Continent was yet to come.

In 1913 one of the horned dinosaurs, Styracosaurus, was found by L. M. Lambe in the State of Alberta in Canada. This monster, which weighed three tons had a huge nasal horn and a neck frill armed with six spines. Like those of the Triceratops and Monoclonius, the horns of the Styracosaurus provided an effective defence weapon. Armed with these, the horned dinosaurs were able to hold their own against some of their most powerful and fierce enemies.

There were other discoveries in North America at this time. The Sternbergs, father and sons, carried on the work of the real pioneers who had led the great search for dinosaurs in America, Cope and Marsh.

But the North American Continent was not the only rich storehouse of dinosaur remains in the world. Africa yielded wonderful results. Other parts of the world south of the equator also gave up their long, buried secrets, but most of these discoveries were only a repetition of those which had been made in North America.

One exception is the expedition organised and financed from the United States, to Eastern Asia, across the vast empty space of desert scrub and grassland of Mongolia and the Gobi Desert.

Curiously, these expeditions to Mongolia were planned with another end in view. Dinosaurs were no part of the plan at all.

At the turn of the century a theory was put forward which suggested the possibility that Mongolia was the area where Primitive Man and mammals made their initial bow. That it could, in fact, be the birthplace of modern life.

The idea caught on. Others enlarged upon it, and finally Roy Chapman Andrews, a scientist on the staff of the United States Museum of Natural History, led the expedition to Mongolia. There was precious little evidence to go on, however. Only one fossil rhinoceros had been found on a caravan route to Mongolia. This was hardly enough proof to establish the possibility that Mongolia was the birthplace of modern life!

But the expeditions went ahead. They were well organised and carefully planned. Great distances had to be covered in a few months, between April and October, before the severity of the winter could begin to hinder the work of the scientists. Even in those months, though, the climate which varied from intense heat to extreme cold, made it a region of violent and sudden storms, so that the expeditions were never an easy matter. To overcome the problems of transport, the scientists were ferried on motor vehicles from one locale to another, and a camel train carried the stores and fuel.

Four such expeditions were carried out in all, between 1922 and 1930. Then the Soviet Union stepped in to put an end to it and further work of this kind was carried on by countries from the eastern side of the Iron Curtain.

With regard to its original aim, to discover the birthplace of Man, the expeditions were an abysmal failure. Other discoveries were made, though, which were similar to those made in the United States and Canada, including a fine, complete skeleton of the mighty Tyrannosaurus.

In an area of giant sandstone carved by wind and weather into all manner of fantastic shapes which, when touched by the setting sun, appeared to be on fire, was found the earliest horned dinosaur, Protoceratops. This was a smaller and less frilly edition of Styracosaurus. The head of the Protoceratops made up one-third of its total length. The jaws formed a strong, curved parrot-like beak in the front, and at the back the skull flared out into a long collar or neck shield.

The most exciting part of this discovery made at a place called Shaberakh Usu in the Gobi Desert was that several batches of Protoceratops eggs were found. Near these nests were no less than eighty skeletons of this dinosaur in various stages of growth, from newly hatched young, to adults measuring five to seven feet.

More was yet to come. Inside the eggs were found ossified embryos, and it would seem that these nests were plundered by a small two-legged reptile which has been named Oviraptor, meaning ‘egg stealer.’

The men who discovered the remains of this strange event of the long-distant past, were fascinated by the fact that the Oviraptors must have been ‘caught in the act,’ as it were, of stealing the eggs. How this event became suddenly ossified as if a lid had come down on it, is a complete mystery. One can only assume that a sudden violent sandstorm blotted it out leaving the actors of this prehistoric drama in place, the action suddenly stopped, to be discovered by modern man, centuries later.

Apart from these exciting finds, small placental creatures, that is, creatures giving birth to live young, were also discovered.

These small mammals were possibly the beginnings of all mammals, large and small.

So the expedition which set out to find the origin of Man found something else instead; the origin of mammals, and some interesting discoveries about the prehistoric creatures which roamed the earth millions of years ago.

Many questions about the dinosaur way of life remained unanswered, but the men who had gone in search of dinosaurs had opened up a whole new field of Man’s knowledge of the past.

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