Sunday, August 25, 2019

Mongolian dinosaurs, 2002

As is traditional when I have an idea for a post but it's not working out, I go through my photos to see if something looks interesting. This time, I ran across a batch of photos taken during a trip I took to Mongolia as an undergrad in June 2002. The purpose of the trip was to do geologic work in the vicinity of Shinejinst, southern Mongolia, where we were looking at the assembly of central Asia. At both ends of the field work, we spent a few days in Ulaanbaatar. Naturally, we visited the Mongolian Natural History Museum. At the time, there was also a separate facility called the "paleontology laboratory", which we visited after returning from the field. (This predated the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs.) Because many of the species featured aren't represented in museums elsewhere, except for special exhibitions, and hopping over to UB isn't the simplest proposition for most of the readers here, I thought you might like to see some of the photos. There's enough interesting specimens to split them into two groups, so I'll start with the Natural History Museum.

Given this was 17 years ago, I wouldn't rely on these photos for travel planning, because specimens are always liable to be swapped out over time. Also, given this was 17 years ago, many of the images are scans of physical photographs (if there's a date mark, it's a physical photo). I took the majority of the physical photos, while another set, of digital photos, was primarily taken by my professor, Lisa Lamb. However, I may have borrowed the digital camera to take specific images, and I must have let another of the students on the trip use my film camera at one point because both Lisa and myself are visible in one of the photos. I previously used a couple of the digital photos for the "Generic History of Dinosaur Paleontology" series. The dinosaur skeletal mounts were placed in one large room, centered on a old-school tripodal Tarbosaurus bataar looming over the proceedings.

Tarbosaurus, with a Gallimimus visible in the lower right. (The photos I have of that mount aren't suitable either because of the backlighting or because I'm in them.)

Most of the mounts were of theropods, Mongolia of course being famous for its diversity of Cretaceous coelurosaurs. For my money, though, one of the most impressive was not a theropod, but the mount frequently assigned to Saichania. It's actually a composite made up of a cast Saichania skull and a Pinacosaurus postcranial skeleton.

Saichania is looking at you, but the rest is Pinacosaurus. Note the articulated armor on the arms and flanks.

A bit more of the Pinacosaurus.

A full lateral view, showing that the armor goes down the tail as well.

One of the interesting features of the mounts is that they did not include casts of missing elements (Saichania skull notwithstanding). Instead, the armature was left bare, or sometimes continued to suggest the presence of the missing elements. You might have noticed the extra armature in the hands and feet of the ankylosaur mount. It's more noticeable in less complete specimens.

This oviraptorid was then assigned to Ingenia, which means it would now be Heyuannia, unless of course it's one of the multitude of other oviraptorids known now (oviraptorid taxonomy being one of many things that mystifies me).

Just outside of the previous picture is the oviraptorid's pal, a Mononykus. The skull was not present (its place suggested by the wire frame), but the characteristic arms and elongate legs are evident.

The only other non-theropod mount in the hall pertained to the pachycephalosaur Homalocephale calathocercos, based on a skull and most of the skeleton from the mid-torso back.

Homalocephale maintains the pachycephalosaur tradition of ditching the arms after death.

One of the more remarkable features of this dinosaur is the breadth of the hips and the base of the tail.

The type of Garudimimus brevipes is based on roughly the same section of the skeleton.

A bit less tail, but the same general parts. The mount is viewed here at an angle, and the neck is curved around so that the animal is looking backward, which combine to make this photo look kind of odd.

I took a closer photo of the skull to confirm that it had not been restored with a crest or horn, which was the thinking back in the day.

Aside from the Tarbosaurus mount, the other "grabber" in the hall (quite literally) was the arms and shoulders of Deinocheirus mirificus

The moody lighting of this photo adds something, I think.

Outside of the large hall, there were also specimens in cases. Unfortunately, most of the photos we took of them did not turn out well due to the glass (Protoceratops specimens, a partial dromaeosaur skeleton, an ankylosaur skull, a sauropod skull which I didn't try to photograph because I seem to recall it was in a sort of case within a case, etc.), with a couple of exceptions.

Here's a nice oviraptorid skull that I'm not sure has been assigned to a species (100/79-A). The accidental crop of the top of the crest is one of those things that happened more frequently before "review" functions.

The type specimen of Nomingia gobiensis, for unknown reasons being enveloped in darkness from the left. The truncated tail is apparent in the upper right.


  1. There are some important specimens in those photos. The 'Gallimimus' is actually undescribed and unnamed "Gallimimus" "mongoliensis". "Ingenia's" skull is Conchoraptor, and the postcranium is a composite of three skeletons (Funston et al., 2017). The "partial dromaeosaur skeleton" was Adasaurus, which very few photos exist of.

    1. Is this the same Gallimimus specimen? I have also wondered how G. mongoliensis looked:

      I think those Deinocheirus arms are a cast, the original is on endless traveling exhibition and is lacking the claws on one hand.

    2. Here's the dope on the Gallimimus specimens I saw:

      The mounted specimen in the Museum of Natural History is the headless specimen that is photographed in the link Michael included. It was identified as G. bullatus;

      In the paleontology laboratory was another mounted Gallimimus. This one was identified as G. mongoliensis, it had a skull, and it appears to be the same as the specimen linked in the "G. mongoliensis" entry in Mickey's Theropod Database (except the ribs were not mounted). (I was saving that one for a Part 2 covering the laboratory, which also displayed another mostly complete Gallimimus skeleton, Avimimus, Harpymimus, Saurolophus, and the inevitable Protoceratops.)

      As for the dromaeosaurid that I saw at the Natural History Museum, checking the photos shows it was labeled as Velociraptor mongoliensis and seems to be more complete than Adasaurus, but the glass interference obscures a lot of details.

    3. Seems the link is dead, here's an archived version:

      In that case, seems to be the same specimen shown here:

    4. I agree. When I visited, the placard with it (not visible in the two photos I used in the second post, but visible in a short low-quality video I took) identified it as G. mongoliensis.