In our 88th episode, we got to speak with Thea Boodhoo and Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin from the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs.
Episode 88 is all about Baryonyx the smaller cousin of Spinosaurus.
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In this episode, we discuss:
- The dinosaur of the day: Baryonyx
- Name means “heavy claw”, has a large claw on its first finger
- Theropod that lived in the Cretaceous
- Type species is Baryonyx walkeri
- Species name is in honor of the fossil hunter William J. Walker, who discovered it
- Holotype found in 1983 in Surrey, England
- Named in 1986
- William Walker was a plumber, who hunted fossils in his free time
- Walker found a large claw, phalanx bone, and part of a rib in a clay pit in Surrey, England (found the tip of the claw a week later)
- Alan Charig and Angela Milner described Baryonyx in 1986
- Paleontologists found more bones, and holotype consisted of partial skull bones, teeth, vertebrae, ribs, sternum, arm and hand bones, hip and leg bones, and claws
- Other fragments have been found in other parts of the UK and Iberia
- Baryonyx teeth have been found in the UK and Iberia, as well as some hand bones and a vertebra
- In 1999 bones, a tooth, and a phalanx, metacarpals, and vertebra remains were found in Spain (an immature Baryonyx), and dinosaur tracks nearby have been found to be Baryonyx too
- Jaw fragments and teeth found in Portugal that were thought to be crocodilian were redescribed and referred to Baryonyx
- Paper: The spinosaurid dinosaur Baryonyx (Saurischia, Theropoda) in the Early Cretaceous of Portugal, published in Geological Magazine 144(06) · October 2007,
More material found in Portugal (partial dentary, isolated teeth, vertebrae rib fragments and more) from the early Cretaceous.
- In 2011 a speciman in Portugal was attributed to Baryonyx, and it included teeth, vertebrae, ribs, hip bones, scapula, and phalanx bone
- Paper: A new specimen of the theropod dinosaur Baryonyx from the early Cretaceous of Portugal and taxonomic validity of Suchosaurus by OCTÁVIO MATEUS1,2, RICARDO ARAÚJO2,3, CARLOS NATÁRIO2 & RUI CASTANHINHA, published 2011
- Portugal specimen referred to Baryonyx because of the teeth being similar
Baryonyx was the first early Cretaceous theropod found in the world and was in the media a lot (last significant theropod found in UK was in 1871, Eustreptospondylus).
- Was in the 1987 BBC documentary and nicknamed “Claws” (as a pun to the film Jaws
First theropod found that showed theropods ate fish (holotype had fish scales in the stomach region)
- Before Baryonyx, scientists thought theropods and other carnivorous dinosaurs had boxy, round skulls, not narrow skulls
- Baryonyx was key to identifying the spinosaur group (before, teeth thought to be crocodiles, and the original Spinosaurus fossils were destroyed in WWII)
- Holotype is one of the most complete theropods from the UK
- Holotype may not have been a full grown adult
- When first found, it was unclear if the large claw was on the hand or foot (like dromaeosaurs), and was described eventually in more detail later (published in 1997)
- About 25 ft (7.5 m) long and weighed 1.2 tons
- First finger claw was about 12 in (31 cm) long
- A fully grown Baryonyx may have been much larger (based on its relative Spinosaurus, which was about 46 ft (14 m) long and weighed 10 tons)
- Neck was curved, but not quite as curved as other theropods
- Had strong forelimbs
- Lived near water
- Probably could swim, though probably not aquatic (nostrils were at side of the snout)
- Had a triangular crest on top of the nasal bones
- Had an elongated skull
- Had a long, low snout and narrow jaws
- The maxilla and premaxilla are simlar to Dilophosaurus
- A CT scan of snouts in 2007 found that Baryonyx was most similar to gharials, which also means they were likely to eat fish
- In 2013, a test found that Baryonyx’s snout could take more stress bending and twisting than gharials
- Scientists saw the similarities between Baryonyx and Spinosaurus (though Baryonyx did not have a sail)
- Had a notch at the end of its jaws, similar to crocodiles, which they use to help grip slippery prey like fish
- May have been a predator and a scavenger (holotype also had bones of a juvenile Iguanodon); could have caught prey with large forelimbs and claws
- Other dinosaurs in the area included Iguanodon, Mantellisaurus, and small sauropods
In 1987 Andrew Kitchener suggested Baryonyx was a scavenger and used its claws to rip open prey and long snout to dig in to its food; jaws and teeth may have been too weak to catch fish or kill prey
- In 1997 Charig and Milner found evidence that it ate fish (saw acid-eteched scales and teeth of fish in the stomach region), as well as juvenile Iguanodon bones and a gastrolith; could have caught fish like a crocodile, by gripping with a notch in the snout, lifting their head backwards, and swallowing the fish headfirst (then used claws to break up bigger fish)
- Long snout and serrated teeth show it ate fish (could have used its claw to fish, like a grizzly bear)
- Long teeth are good for holding prey, not crunching
- Had serrated, conical teeth
- Had small, pointed teeth
- Had more teeth in the lower jaw than upper jaw (64 in lower jaw, 32 in dentary and 7 in the right premaxilla)
- Had more teeth than most theropods (almost twice as many as T-rex)
Baryonyx teeth are similar to Suchosaurus, and some scientists think they are the same animal. Others think they’re just closely related. But since Suchosaurus is based only on teeth and jaw fragments, there’s not enough information
- Suchosaurus is possibly a synonym (named in 1841, based on teeth), teeth are probably of a spinosaurid, though slightly different from Baryonyx
- But, Baryonyx teeth vary between individuals
- Both Suchosaurus species, Suchosaurus cultridens and Suchosaurus girardi are nomina dubia, because of a lack of diagnostic apomorphies
- Can see the skeleton at the Natural History Museum in London
- Fun Fact: Megaraptor, was named a “raptor” largely because of big dromaeosaur-like claw that was found with the holotype so it was assumed to be a large toe claw like the one on velociraptor. But later a more complete specimen was found where the claw turned out to be attached to the hand. So now it’s family is much less certain. The leading groups seem to be tyrannosauroid, spinosauroid, and allosauroid, but it’s still being debated.
For those who may prefer reading, see below for the full transcript of our interview with Thea and Bolor:
Garret: Now we’re going to go into our interview with Bolor and Thea. And Dr. Bolor Minjin has a PhD in Paleontology and is currently doing research at the American Museum of Natural History. She is a National Geographic Explorer, Wings World Quest Fellow, and advocate of fossil conservation, and founder of the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs. And Thea Boodhoo has worked in advertising for the past ten years and recently launched the Digital Quarry Project for Dinosaur National Monument. She has also volunteered with the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, founded Creatives for Science, and she is the one behind the online presence of the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs. So now on to the interview.
First we always like to ask: do either of you have a favorite dinosaur?
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: I mean I love all Mongolian dinosaurs, but I, for me of course Velociraptor is the most interesting one.
Garret: Cool. How about you Thea?
Thea Boodhoo: Well today my favorite dinosaur is definitely Protoceratops because this morning I got a beautiful piece of artwork from our paleo artist Emily Willoughby, and she finally sent us our Protoceratops that we’re going to be using on some material and it looks so beautiful, so I’m enamored.
Garret: That’s great.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Just one more thing to add to Thea’s favorite dinosaur: so Protoceratops is also a very important dinosaur for Mongolian paleontology because it’s the first dinosaur that was discovered in Mongolia back in 1920s. And also we chose that dinosaur to be on our logo. So it’s a very cute dinosaur. You should see the baby ones too.
Garret: Yeah that is a good one, and I like your logo, it’s pretty cool.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Thank you.
Garret: So Bolor, your bio lists you as a second-generation paleontologist. Is that how you first got interested in dinosaurs?
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Well the thing is my father, he’s one of the first generation of Mongolian paleontologists, so I was exposed to paleontology because of my father. And I think, I mean the thing, the point I want to make is it’s hard to become a paleontologist in Mongolia. The reason I would say is you know there’s not many things that you can be exposed to, to learn about paleontology there, because not much books and TV shows, not much of public outreach going on. I mean now it’s getting better but when I was a kid and kind of going into this field it was hard for me to find a source of information that I would interest to, you know, get more information about a specific group of like vertebrates for example. There’s no books that I would go to look to read it in my own language. It’s only I was able to you know find some source of information, like especially books from my dad’s library at home, and those are all in Russian. So it’s challenging. You need to learn Russian then you can read that book, which I was doing that when I was in college.
Garret: That’s dedication.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah I think it’s dedication and also interest and also having a mentor like my father who was next to me, that if I had anything you know that I can easily ask questions. And if he wasn’t a paleontologist, I’m not sure who and where I should go to ask those questions. But I do know that most of public and kids they go to the museum in the city, the capital city Ulaanbaatar we have a Natural History Museum. There’s a couple of exhibit halls that have fossils that’s been found from Mongolia but unfortunately you know that is the only source of information. And then even you live in the city, not living in the center of the city, then the chance of you going to that museum is even less. So we had actually back to 2010 we did a […] (00:04:57) project in the city for paleontology on dinosaurs for kid in the city. They’d be basically targeted kids who live on the outskirts of the city. And I asked, there were like 30 kids there, so I asked how many of you have been here at the Natural History Museum? So we did the workshop at the museum there in Ulaanbaatar. Only two kids raised hands. And that’s out of just small sampling but that’s kind of some way it’s a general picture that you would get.
Garret: Yeah and that’s kids that were interested in hearing you talk about dinosaurs too.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah I think that if the time when I was a kid, if someone’s doing this kind of outreach projects to public and kids that could have been a great opportunity for me that I get exposed , you know, this knowledge and new discoveries of fossils in Mongolia. Unfortunately there weren’t such things, so you know I think now we’re doing this outreach you know more, we try to reach as many kids as possible. I think you know we feel that, you know for me especially, I’m very happy that there’s kids to know about and learn about those fossils and fossil heritage in Mongolia. So in hoping that in at least a few of them maybe interest to go into paleontology, or even some of them go into science. You know? So I think we really just want to through paleontology and dinosaurs expose to science. We want something different in their life that they should get excited about it.
I mean of course Mongolian culture is a little different from U.S. And so here in the U.S. you know dinosaurs they’re like a pop culture in some sense, that, and also very much commercialized and it’s hard to find any products without dinosaurs on it, especially for kids. Toys and books and stuff. But then in Mongolia the country that’s been known by its, you know, this exciting and important dinosaur fossils, you know because other vertebrates have been discovered since the 1920s, and then the public and kids they don’t have much of knowledge about this heritage. You know, and I think so that’s why it’s very important for us, even the scale of work we are doing is not as great as can be but we are contributing in some way to make this project to reach out as far as we can in the country in different areas.
Garret: Yeah that’s great. Why do you think it is, other than the books, is it just that there haven’t been a lot of things in pop culture to get people interested in dinosaurs? Or…?
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: For me what I’ve been experiencing is you know, as you know since 1920s there were major international expeditions being worked in Mongolia. So each time those expeditions, it’s a research and expeditions and different countries scientists by different countries. What happened is unfortunately most of those fossils left the country. And so what happened when a fossil left the country, the knowledge left with it. It means that even the scientist working on those institutions in different countries, you know whenever results come out it came out in a different language right? So that knowledge and information and result of that work never went back to Mongolia in any way to have the public to learn about those discoveries.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: So it’s been almost 90 years. Then like our institution’s first outreach was back 2009, so that is the first ever dinosaur outreach had happened in Mongolia for the whole country. So then you know when we did that outreach project we specifically focused on kids who live near Flaming Cliffs, you know, near fossil sites in the Gobi. So that’s, you know, first time the kid’s been exposed to the knowledge of dinosaurs and fossils. And then also in terms of these kind of discoveries, we don’t have books and kids books, even for adults, we don’t have a source of information for them to learn about.
Garret: So is, I don’t know much at all about Mongolia, but is the Mongolian language very different than say Chinese or Russian?
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah it’s different. The Mongolian language actually grouped with, there is a group called Altaic language group, which includes probably the closest is like Turkish language. So we do have kind of similar dialect and sounds.
Garret: But it’s not close enough that you could like read a Turkish book.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: No, I mean in terms of script it’s different. I mean we use alphabet, I mean Russian Cyrillic alphabet. You know, that was actually been introduced in Mongolia in the 1920s when Mongolia became a satellite country to the Soviet Union. But before then we did have our own script which we call […] (00:10:42) which rooted into an old Iranian-Saudian script. So it’s very different, Yeah.
Thea Boodhoo: Would you like to learn a couple of words in Mongolian?
Garret: I’ll try.
Thea Boodhoo: I’m trying to learn some Mongolian before we go. I’ll teach you “hello”. Bolor tell me if I’m totally messing it up.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Okay.
Thea Boodhoo: Okay, sainuu.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: That’s pretty good.
Thea Boodhoo: Sainuu.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah, sainuu means hello, kind of official way.
Garret: Oh okay, so that’s not what you’d say to your friends. That’s like what you’d say in a professional kind of situation?
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Well I think if you’re meeting with someone you don’t know then you say sainuu. With friends we say sano.
Garret: Okay, so that’s kind of like hey versus hello.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah. That’s pretty good Thea. So have you learned how to say bye?
Thea Boodhoo: BaYeahrtai.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: BaYeahrtai.
Thea Boodhoo: BaYeahrtai.
Garret: That’s a tricky sound that I keep hearing in…
Thea Boodhoo: It is. My first impression trying to learn Mongolian is that it sounds like the wind.
Garret: A little bit Yeah.
Thea Boodhoo: Like it just sounds like it comes from the steps, like there’s all these very breezy sounds too it and […] (00:12:09). But I’m getting the hang of it I think.
Garret: So how do you pronounce that word that’s on a lot of your I guess memorabilia on your Indiegogo?
Thea Boodhoo: […] (00:12:20)
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: […] (00:12:22) Yeah.
Garret: And what does that mean?
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: It means […] (00:12:27).
Thea Boodhoo: So there’s a kind of tree that grows there called a saxaul tree.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah it’s kind of, Yeah lovely.
Thea Boodhoo: Which is actually, I think that’s the Russian name for the tree is saxaul.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah that is, I mean, so […] (00:12:43) is the Mongolian way we would say…
Thea Boodhoo: If you’ve ever seen like a pinion tree in the southwest or a desert juniper, it looks a little bit like that I think. That’s what I think of when I see the pictures. So those kinds of trees are found in the area.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: So how did that word make it onto all your stuff?
Thea Boodhoo: Right, the area is a fossil quarry that’s sometimes called the Flaming Cliffs in the west, but the Mongolian name of course is […] (00:13:11). And it is the first location where dinosaurs were found in Mongolia. And Bolor do you want to tell the back story about that?
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah, probably the most of our paleontologists know that, and also some public, but the expedition that sent from American Museum of Natural History, that expedition was led by Roy Chapman Andrews back in 1920s, like specific dates were 1922, 1923, 1925. So three years they actually had worked in Mongolia, and they made the discovery of the first Mongolian dinosaurs and also first dinosaur nest in the world in Bayanzag. So Bayanzag is not only important for Mongolia but also important for the world in terms of discoveries of dinosaur fossils and also the nest of, dinosaur nest being found there. So it’s an internationally known place. So because of that it attracts a lot of tourists who come to Mongolia, and they always stop at Bayanzag.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah, so it’s very important historically and paleontological discovery, it’s a very important fossil site for the country and for the world. For the paleo community too.
Thea Boodhoo: So it’s one of the places we’re focusing really strongly on because it’s also really at risk. It’s been designated as like a state park almost, I think it’s provinces there. It’s a protected park, but there’s not really facilities there and there’s only one ranger in the whole area, so we’re putting a lot of effort into trying to help protect the fossils that are there because they become very easily exposed and then very easily damaged by people who would drive up and are not paying attention or are walking around or just honestly trying to take them because they can. And so we are trying to do conservation of fossils there that are exposed as well as education among the local community to let people know what to do if they see a fossil and who to report it to if they see someone trying to take one.
Garret: Okay. Yeah that sounds like a really important thing to do. On that topic of people taking things they shouldn’t, there have been a lot of famous or at least high-profile dinosaur repatriations to Mongolia recently, like one that was all over the news was the Tarbosaurus that Nicholas Cage had briefly and then I guess he found out it was illegal and it got seized. Do either of you think that most people, at least in the U.S. like Nicholas Cage or other people don’t realize that they’re buying something illegal, or do you think that they just think well it’s illegal but it’s so cool so I’m just going to buy it anyway.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Well Nicholas Cage’s case is just one of many happening with […] (00:16:24) that we are doing since 2013. So the Mongolian dinosaur fossils being auctioned at quite known auction houses, and there’s a number of major auction houses being auctioning Mongolian dinosaurs that I think simply because of coming up to these you know known places and people probably assume you know those fossils are legitimate right? But then the thing is that auction houses should be somewhere informed to know what is legal, what is illegal.
Garret: Yeah I thought that was crazy when I found out that auction houses are basically allowed to sell illegal things and nothing really happens to them. That’s so strange.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Well yeah that’s the unfortunate thing that we dealt with. The first dinosaur that we repatriated back was 2013. It’s a Tarbosaurus bataar, nearly complete skeleton of a meat-eating dinosaur. So that was the most success story that Mongolia was able to get back, the first fossil heritage repatriated back to the country. So it did make a lot of sensation in the country that brought the same time a lot of awareness, especially among the public. So the public see that as oh this is a great victory for the country, that the things we could have lost, right? But at the same time they see that there’s a price tag on this dinosaur, a million dollars. So that is the unfortunate part of this thing is that if you start to put value on, you know money kind of value on the fossil, then this is like become just any other product, which is not good. So that’s why our outreach is really focusing on give the people the knowledge to understand the importance of this fossil heritage in Mongolia. Instead of them thinking hey a million dollar dinosaur, they would think this fossil’s heritage is important you know not just for Mongolia and for the rest of the world for knowledge to learn about the Earth history. At the same time the thing we should be proud of.
You know, you interact with kids here in the States they say the Mongolian dinosaur names, and at the same time they put because of dinosaurs they can find Mongolia on the map. So that’s important, so dinosaur is actually in some way teaching them not only what is it but where is it geographically it’s found and learning about the country. Hey, this is Mongolia. So Mongolia, what kind of country is that, you know? So that sense is for us for Mongolians like me and other Mongolians we have a culture, a language that we want to share with the rest of the world, and we say you know when I’m here in New York or I’m in the U.S. when I meet some people I’d say hi I’m from Mongolia. You know? So then some people would know Mongolia? Is it part of China? You know, kind of things that we don’t like to hear. It’s like Mongolia is a country, you know? So in some way we need to show of course we have a language to speak and culture to show, and also dinosaur is being also another thing to coming to show to public here hey, this dinosaur is from Mongolia, a country that is in Asia you know?
Thea Boodhoo: To answer your question on another level, because Mongolia is a faraway place that a lot of Americans aren’t really familiar with and maybe don’t know anyone from, especially because it was until so recently a Soviet country so there’s not a big immigrant presence in America of Mongolian people yet, there’s definitely a distance there. And even if you maybe know full well that a fossil came from Mongolia, and even if you maybe know that it was imported illegally, you maybe know that it was imported illegally. You may not have a sense that there is anything anybody could or would do about it because it seems so far away and distant. And one thing we want to try and do here with our work in digital media especially and in the U.S. is just get people to realize that hey these are real communities that actually need those fossils for their own benefit. And the people there and the kids there are normal kids and they’re people like you and me and they love dinosaurs and they want to learn about them and they have a pride in what comes from their country.
Garret: Yeah, that’s a really good point.
Thea Boodhoo: Yeah. We’re having some success with that on digital media I think so far. This campaign certainly helps.
Garret: Yeah I also saw, when was it, I want to say about six months ago they had a funny word for it but it was almost like they described it as a celebration in New York where they were giving fossils back to Mongolia. Were you guys involved in that at all?
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah, this dinosaur fossil repatriation project started since 2013 so I’ve been involved very closely to this repatriation. So here in the U.S. I represent Mongolian governments, especially the Ministry of Science, Culture & Education, and also President’s Office. Some extent professional opinion I do provide and also I do logistical help for the government, and so, so far we have repatriated 30, about 31, 32 dinosaurs. So in two weeks we’re actually going to send back to Mongolia eight Mongolian dinosaurs that we actually had a preparation ceremony in April. In New York City we worked with the US Attorney Office in southern district and Homeland Security and Border Protection Agency. So we do have about ten more dinosaur fossils waiting to be repatriated, but at different stages of some legal cases going on.
Yeah so we very much closely related to this repatriation project on every step of it for the country.
Garret: That’s great. So I guess it was called repatriation ceremony. That’s what I was thinking of.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yes. We had a third ceremony in April, so the April ceremony was very different from the previous two. Of course the first one is very important and very exciting and in some way was sensational, but the one we had in April was different the way that U.S. Attorney Office in southern district really supported that to have outreach educational component in it, in the ceremony. And so we had American and Mongolian kids actually came to the ceremony to be part of it. And at the same time they learned about those dinosaurs that were going to be repatriated back to Mongolia that I was really happy how that ceremony went.
Garret: That’s awesome.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah it’s not just we’re celebrating but at the same time bringing awareness. And look here, these fossils are beautiful and has a lot of information and knowledge that you can get. Yeah so those eight dinosaurs will be shipped back in two weeks, so I’m working on it as we speak. So…
Garret: Great. Is that Tarbosaurus that’s on display at the Mongolian Natural History Museum, the one you were talking about, the really complete one that got repatriated?
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: No, what happened is when that first dinosaur, that Tarbosaurus bataar skeleton was repatriated, so government actually decided to open a new museum. It’s called the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs, and so they offered me a position as Assistant Director and Chief Paleontologist of that museum. So the Tarbosaurus bataar was the first specimen of that museum, so then after that there’s twenty two dinosaurs that had been repatriated, went to the same museum, and these eight dinosaurs went to the same museum. So the museum is based in Ulaanbaatar and it’s in a building, used to be in Lenin’s Museum, so Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, so probably people know who is it. So yeah there is a Natural History Museum, but currently it’s closed because they have some issue with the building. So they are going to have a new Natural History Museum, but I don’t know how soon the projects will be completed. So if someone goes to Mongolia then they can still see those repatriated dinosaur fossils in the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs. I’m not working anymore in that museum but I do help them out to some extent. And so having this fossil sending back to Mongolia from the States with the help of the U.S. government of course.
Garret: That’s great. Speaking of opening new things I guess, you guys, or specifically you Bolor started the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs, and you have an Indiegogo campaign right now that when this airs will be going for a couple more days. Can you tell us a little bit about the goals of the project and the Institute?
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Well the Institute was established in 2007 and the reason I established that institute is when I was doing a graduate study at the American Museum of Natural History I really got to practice and get to know about Western science. Some way even how research institutions and how science labs would be like, especially for paleontologists. I dreamed of to have such thing in Mongolia, and I knew the situation in Mongolia when I finish and I graduated and go back to Mongolia I will have a really hard time to continue my profession as a paleontologist because there still were kind of limited resources. So to have the research successfully to be done, for me I really wanted to have an institution like MNH but of course that’s just impossible, that huge scale. But it at least could have in some way even small model how a research institute and especially paleontology things should be. I really also wanted that thinking of our next generation of paleontologists, if when we come through they will experience the same thing I would experience, you know, then they will discouraged not to continue their profession. You know for me I had the moment in time where I was going to quit paleontology, and I think that’s a really hard decision, but then thinking of the problems and issues that how things in Mongolia are really thinking you know having an organization, it seems to me, makes sense. Right? So in the same time getting a public to know about what you’re doing as a scientist is really important. That’s how you get the support back from the public. And such kind of practice wasn’t really in Mongolia, so I really wanted to have some of practices how things happening here wanted in Mongolia.
So that’s how the Institution established, and at the same time we were starting to have this fossil poaching problem. So we you know really want some fossil conservation. Without fossil I don’t think we can study much of anything. So we really have to focus on that to bring the importance to the public, then we will talk about the conservation, how to conserve those fossils. Especially in the […] (00:28:50) it’s very important, because that’s where the whole problem is starting you know in terms of poaching.
But then in terms of Mongolia most of the fossil sites are quite isolated places, not close to town, you know? So it’s very challenging in some ways and also it really favors for poaching, because you don’t know what’s really going on out there. So there’s a lot of reasons that this institute needs to be in Mongolia.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: So basically supporting next generation of Mongolian paleontologists, and public outreach and fossil conservation. And so all in some sense it comes into one thing, which is a museum. So that’s the thing, when I was […] (00:29:37) just like first step I went through the door of that institution I was just like whoa, you know, just like museum is like this you know. […] (00:29:49) you know I really want to have a museum like this in Mongolia. I think it’s hard to have it that big, but I think we will get there at some scale you know from some museums.
Thea Boodhoo: Yeah, Bolor and I actually, one of the inspirations for the museum that we’ve been planning for Mongolia was Dinosaur National Monument. And that was where Bolor and I met last summer and how I got involved in this project. So if you haven’t been there, Dinosaur National Monument has this just a beautiful building surrounding an in situ fossil quarry where the dinosaur bones are still there in the sandstone.
Garret: Yeah I love that place.
Thea Boodhoo: Yeah. It’s one idea, it might work a little bit for places in Mongolia, but the way that the light comes into the building and just the way the space feels and how accessible it is, is definitely an inspiration for something.
Garret: Yeah, the only problem is like you were saying it’s so remote that then the people have to go way out into the middle of nowhere in order to see it.
Thea Boodhoo: But they come.
Garret: That’s true.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah, well I think like I said before that in terms of you know dinosaur discoveries and in terms of the science part of Mongolian dinosaur fossils it’s pretty well-powered in some sense since 1920s. Even now there are multiple expeditions working in Mongolia right? So what is left out of that was education and knowledge back to the community and kids and public in Mongolia. So that’s why the museum that we were talking in Mongolia will be very important. The reason Mongolian fossils leaving the country is because we don’t have a facility to hold such amount of fossils, and also at the same time next generation of Mongolian paleontologists, we do need more young people to come to this field. But at the same time we need to have the support for them.
Garret: Yeah you need the fossil prep area and all that kind of stuff.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah, so it’s a very challenging project in some sense. Especially for now I mean we do have a museum in the capital city in Mongolia, but then it’s important to have such institutions at the site. You know, we see that through Dinosaur National Monument. I really wanted to learn to understand how that fossil site and museum is being managed. So we have a rich source of fossils in Mongolia, why are we not taking this advantage? Better for the public and you know for kids. So I think someone has to do it, so you know we’re really stepping in to make it, this project to happen. So this summer’s, this Indiegogo project is very important even though last summer we did successfully launch our first mobile dinosaur museum project, right, at the Flaming Cliff site. But this year we want to go across the country to reach more kids and more public as much as possible, and at the same time the most important project that we’re launching this summer is the community conservation project focusing on the fossil sites.
Thea Boodhoo: I want to describe that mobile museum a little bit since we haven’t talked about it actually. I haven’t seen it in person so Bolor definitely correct me if I miss anything, but there’s some photos of it on our campaign page. It’s literally a big tour bus, essentially, that had been converted by the American Museum of Natural History into a museum. It makes a stop wherever it goes and on the inside there’s a bunch of exhibits about dinosaurs, and it’s painted on the outside with like a big dinosaur. And all the exhibits on the inside are actually in English still because we had it transported from New York. It wasn’t last year, it was two years ago, wasn’t it Bolor?
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah.
Thea Boodhoo: And one of the things that we want to fund, like our current campaign, is getting all of the exhibits translated into Mongolian for the kids. It looks pretty, I can’t wait to see it in person myself. It’s kind of amazing that this thing exists, it’s really cool.
Garret: Yeah so what kind of stuff is inside it, what kind of exhibits do you have?
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah, well MNH has temporary exhibits on the Mongolian and Chinese fossils being displayed. That’s back in some years back so they created this mobile dinosaur museum that was reaching out in different parts of New York City. So inside the exhibit has interactive like screens, touch screens, so kids will do different activities to learn about different discoveries of dinosaurs and also features, and there are some parts also introduces about paleontologists who study specific topics about dinosaurs like Karen Chin who works coprolites. You know, that’s the exhibit that gets a lot of reaction, we got a lot of reaction last summer from kids because when I said hey that is actually dinosaur droppings, and then they close their nose. You know, and I say well it can’t smell. Well you can try to smell, it doesn’t, it’s fossilized. It’s fine, you can touch it. They’re like ew, it’s so funny.
Thea Boodhoo: That thing sterilizes like 65 million years ago.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah I know. And then it talks about dinosaur extinction and most recent discoveries that are coming out from China on featured dinosaurs. So the exhibit has three parts, and also it has three different age group activities for kids from kindergarten up to eighth grade.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah, and the thing also, the feature in that vehicle has, they have a lift for someone who’s on wheelchair can be lifted up and can go in the exhibit, they can go around and see it.
Garret: That sounds really cool.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: It’s pretty cool, and I would think that is probably the first bus that in Mongolia has such a lift for person on a wheelchair can come into the bus. It does have also video, introduction video when you come in, and there’s a T-rex foot bone and a lot of kids they want to have a picture next to it.
Thea Boodhoo: I have one for my […] (00:36:39) that’s for sure.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah, I mean the challenging thing about that vehicle is it’s a recreational vehicle, 37-foot long, and you know usually the vehicle used here is for camping right? So it’s not the vehicle designed to ride on the off-road. But last summer we really wanted to have that museum go to […] (00:37:04) and kids who live close to the Flaming Cliffs. So we actually drove it off-road for over 200 kilometers.
Garret: And how’d it do?
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: It did well. I mean surprisingly. And the good thing is I know the route and I know the road because I drove it many times before when I was on expeditions, so it doesn’t have like really kind of bad bumpy or you know roads. Most of the parts were kind of smooth, but only part was challenging was the road was very like shaky. So because of that, you know because we drove so much and then the vehicle mirror almost fell off. Because of the vibration, all those nails and stuff start to loosen up. So that was a little challenges, but I think we’re not going to have that vehicle go off-road again. It seems a lot of pressure on the vehicle, but it actually, it’s really well built. I almost want to say, you know, to Winnebago, and I think the engine is a Ford, oh gosh this vehicle is good that it can go off-road. I have done it in Mongolia in the Gobi desert. It didn’t get stuck in the sand or anything. So it was very exciting.
But this fall we will go on paved road that can, you know, reach as far as can be to the west. We’re not, you know, paved roads are not everywhere in Mongolia. It’s not easily you can go, you know, any place if you want to go. Only certain major town’s been connected by paved road. It’s not yet for smaller towns to go, so if you want to go to smaller towns you have to be off-road. So that’s the challenging part of it.
Garret: So maybe you should get Winnebago to do an ad campaign with you guys and sponsor your super-durable mobile dinosaur exhibit.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah I mean I’m just wondering if anyone have tried to have that big of a recreational vehicle to drive off-road for over 200 kilometers. I think it’s pretty well…
Thea Boodhoo: For science.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah, and also it has an AC and heating system, so it’s hot in the Gobi so it was very useful to have such a luxury in some way in the Gobi that you know you go into the exhibit it’s nice cool air to walk around in. So I think it’s really like that.
Garret: Yeah. Is there anything else people should know about Mongolia or your project?
Thea Boodhoo: So many things, where do I even start? We’ve got a lot of information on our campaign page. It’s igg.me/at/mongoliandinos and we’re on Twitter and Facebook as @mongoliandinos. And of course I’m sure you’ll be posting all those links as well with the podcast but there’s a lot of information we have and we’re collecting so much more. There’s so much, I’m doing the website and boy there’s so much we haven’t added to it yet. I want to tell you about all the dinosaurs that are in Mongolia, we’re going to have articles about each one with all the information we can find and illustrations, and of course the history of paleontology in Mongolia is just amazing. I mean in America as well we have about a hundred years that we go back, but starting with the 1920s and Roy Chapman Andrews and then going into the whole Soviet expeditions and this whole era where science was completely cut off from the West. And then coming back into the 90s and bringing Western scientists back and what had changed, and it’s just an incredible story. And we’re actually trying to sum up the three main chapters of that with a little bit of a special perk that we put together that we thought people might like and it’s been a little bit popular so it’s called the Bayanzag Library, and it’s a collection of three books that cover the different chapters of paleontology out at that fossil quarry Bayanzag that we talked about earlier.
Thea Boodhoo: Yeah.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: And also she’s working on a website, Bayanzag website.
Thea Boodhoo: That’s right, Bayanzag.org.
Garret: How do you spell it in non-Cyrillic?
Thea Boodhoo: B-A-Y-A-N-Z-A-G.
Thea Boodhoo: And we’re also using the alternate name the Flaming Cliffs, which was the name that Roy Chapman Andrews gave it.
Garret: Is that just because it’s so hot? Why is it called the Flaming Cliffs?
Thea Boodhoo: Well you’ll see from the pictures. It’s a really beautiful location with these sort of reddish faces that catch the light at sunset and turn a very flame kind of color. There’s a beautiful photo that Bolor took last year of these cliffs all lit up and gold with a rainbow just over the top.
Garret: Oh wow.
Thea Boodhoo: I can’t wait to see it in person, Yeah. Flamingcliffs.org is the other URL, they go to the same place.
Garret: Great. I’d definitely recommend that everyone go and support Save Mongolia’s Dinosaurs on Indiegogo because they’ll definitely put the money to good use and they have some really awesome perks like replica dinosaur claws, shirts, and mugs with dinosaur prints, posters, and if you have really deep pockets you can even join them on their trip. So it’s definitely worth checking out. Even if you don’t care about their project, which you definitely should. Their stuff is actually very cheap. It’s weird how cheap your perks are. Like a shirt on there is the same price pretty much as a regular shirt, and they’re cool. So definitely go support them and get cool dinosaur stuff at the same time. And can you share the website for that one more time?
Thea Boodhoo: It’s igg.me/at/mongoliandinos.
Garret: Yeah. And I can never remember that so I go to Google and I type Indiegogo Mongolia’s Dinosaurs and then it pops up.
Thea Boodhoo: There we go.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: There’s a couple of things to add to the project that we’ll be doing in the fall. We will be live, we will try. It will be out in the Gobi but we definitely can do it live in the city because we will do some workshops and activities in the city. So if anyone is interested we will be updating our Indiegogo campaign, also the Facebook page of our Institute we will have the dates and time when we will be live in Mongolia. And also we are planning to have a Skype meeting of American and Mongolian kids to have a conversation about the dinosaurs, then Mongolian culture, American culture. So we have, it’s not just doing these activities in Mongolia. We do want to you know create some bridge between the two countries that can be in other countries as well, and maybe in the future, that we do want the Mongolian kids should also see the kids in other worlds also really excited to learn about Mongolian dinosaurs.
Garret: Awesome, Yeah I’ll definitely be following along.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: So in terms of also Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs, you know when I was establishing 2007, that Jack Horner, paleontologist, probably some people know…
Garret: Yeah we’ve talked to him.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yeah. Okay so Jack Horner was, I mean he’s still very supportive of our project in Mongolia, so we had actually multiple expeditions together. And he helped our institute to support a couple of Mongolian students. So that was very important for Mongolia, and so he, I really, I can’t say enough to thank him you know how much he helped us to stand on our feet, our institute. He still, you know, supports us because he’s still very closely, we have contacts and we talk about our projects and he has suggestions and he helps us a lot. And also this fall we have Mark Norell from the American Museum of Natural History, he will join us briefly in one of our workshops in the city. And so our institute actually hosting him in Mongolia to have a future talk for the public about Mongolian dinosaur discoveries and the research he has been doing in Mongolia, and also he will come to Dinosaur Mobile Museum to interact with kids. And if kids have any you know specific questions they want to know, because he has done a number of research on Mongolian dinosaurs. I’ll be very excited to have him onboard as well. And also you know we really thank the Museum of Natural History donating a mobile dinosaur museum for our institute. That really, really make that go as far as we can to have our project be successful in the summer, to reach out to more kids.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yep, so thank you, thank you Garret.
Garret: No problem, thanks for joining.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Yes of course.
Garret: Well have a nice time in Mongolia guys.
Thea Boodhoo: Thank you.
Dr. Bolorsetseg Minjin: Oh thank you we will, we’re really excited.
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