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92.9fm Regional News

  • Writer's pictureAlayna Fong

Digging for dinosaurs

For the first time, the University of New England is inviting amateur and seasoned palaeontologists on the trip of a lifetime to uncover the lost dinosaurs of Mongolia this September.

Facilitated by UNE palaeontologists, Associate Professor Phil Bell and Dr Nic Campione, the two-week expedition in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert will see attendees discover and collect dinosaur remains and assist in international efforts to counter the black-market trade of illegal fossils from the country.

Run by world-class tour operator, Mongolia Quest, the expedition will involve the exploration of several remote pockets of the Gobi Desert, including the famous ‘Dinosaur Tomb’ of Altan Uul; Mongolia’s ‘Grand Canyon’, Khermyn Tsav; and Tugrigiin Shiree, best known as the place where scientists uncovered a fossil of a Protoceratops and a Velociraptor locked in combat.

Over the two weeks, attendees will have the opportunity to work with experts to discover, excavate, and collect new dinosaur finds, experience nomadic life and the rich historical heritage of the region, and help to piece together the puzzle of how Mongolia’s dinosaurs once lived.


Illegal fossil poaching

The Gobi Desert is renowned as one of the richest areas in the world for the discovery of dinosaur fossils, including the Velociraptor, Gallimimus, and Tarbosaurus.

However, illegal fossil poaching has had a devastating impact on the region’s natural history heritage.

“For many decades, groups of people have been collecting fossils from Mongolia and then selling them on the black market for millions of dollars,” told Dr Nic Campione.

“And although its very difficult to police the Gobi Desert, the government of Mongolia actually has strict laws that state no fossils can be removed from the country.

“So, the fact we’re finding them around the globe, suggests, many people have and continue to remove them for whatever reason.”

Although many of the removed fossils have been repatriated back to Mongolia Dr Campione said one of the efforts they want to do on this expedition is try to link back some of these illegally obtained fossils to where they were originally from in the Gobi desert.

“Traditionally, these links would be made off the preservation state of the animals, for example, what their bones look like or what kind of rock they were in. Through this we can understand where the fossil was found.

“But a new technique is in development and that is geochemical printing.”

Geochemical printing is when a chemical signal is used to provide information about the origin, the formation, and/or the environment of a geological sample.

Dr Campione explained they will use this new technique by zapping the fossils on the expedition to identify their chemical composition and then identify the same chemical composition in the rocks around Mongolia.

This will give the UNE team a sense of how geochemical printing works and if it is successful, a direct link to particular sites.


Getting involved

Over the past decades, Mongolia has been pushing to increase tourism in the country.

Dr Campione explained this two-week expedition is a response to that push.

“Palaeontology is a big attractor across the globe, so Mongolia has identified this and now offers lots of different programmes in the field to bring people into their country.

“What’s so great about joining palaeontology-based programmes is that you’re not only being a tourist in Mongolia, but you are a part of something bigger.”

Worried you can’t go because you have no experience in palaeontology?

No need to worry. You do not need to have any experience; you just need a keen interest in dinosaurs.

“I think most people go through a dinosaur phase at some point in their life and they’ve for whatever reason, grown out of it,” said Dr Campione.

“Its opportunities like these that actually allow people who ended up doing other things in life to rekindle that connection with nature and a curiosity for the natural world and its evolution.

“We aren’t expecting anyone to be an expert, but travelling to a remote place like the Gobi Desert does require a substantial amount of hiking and digging. So, you must have the capacity for those activities.”

The expedition will take place September 5th to 19th, 2024.

Find out more information, including the full itinerary, participation requirements and pricing,


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