Dinosaurs & Daredevils at Mongolia’s Flaming Cliffs
It was 1922 and the team of paleontologists had penetrated further into Mongolia’s stark Gobi Desert than any other western scientists. Several big black American cars drove over the gritty hard-packed sand through the scrub, followed by a straggling camel caravan of supplies.
In this celebrated spot, they were to make groundbreaking discoveries – the first nest of dinosaur eggs ever found, and the fossil of the first mammal proven to have lived during the era of the dinosaurs, some 95 million years ago.
Commonly believed to be the inspiration for the film character Indiana Jones, Andrews wrote about his adventures in the best-selling books Ends of the Earth and Under a Lucky Star. In his first 15 years of fieldwork he recalled at least ten times when his life was in danger, from typhoons, bandits, a huge python and one “fanatical lama.” In a typical episode at a Mongolia dig site, the team awoke from sleep to find that poisonous snakes had slithered out of the cold Gobi night and into their warm sleeping bags.
A later Polish-Mongolian expedition to the region came across the famous “Fighting Dinosaurs,” the skeletons of a Velociraptor and a Protoceratops apparently struggling with each other. And in 1990, the American Museum of Natural History was invited back into the no-longer-communist country; their efforts were rewarded with a particularly rich field of Cretaceous skulls, also in the same general area. Scientists are still exploring this productive field.
For the traveler and layperson, the sight of the magnificent and momentous Flaming Cliffs glowing in the rays of sunset is reward enough. That and the sight of the cleaned and preserved fossils resting in state in the country’s museums.
(Top photo credit: Andrew Barron)
PUBLISHED: August 20, 2014