Shandong Culture

Zhucheng: Where dinosaurs roamed

By Zhang Zhao (China Daily) Updated: 2016-07-13

While millions of people worldwide were stunned by the dinosaurs created in the Hollywood blockbuster Jurassic World, fewer know of the real world of the prehistoric giants in Zhucheng county in Weifang, Shandong province.

Dinosaur fossils have been found at more than 30 sites in Zhucheng, covering a total of 1,600 square kilometers, when the total area of the county is only about 2,200 sq km.

Dinosaur fossils were first discovered in the region in 1964. When prospectors from the former National Geological Ministry were looking for oil, they discovered fossilized dinosaur remains later identified as being from a Shantungosaurus giganteus, the largest non-sauropod dinosaur yet found.

Following that there have been three excavation projects, the latest of which was in 2008, when a museum for the Tyrannosaurus, commonly known as T-rex, was built on a site where archaeologists found fossils of the Zhuchengtyrannus magnus, Asia's largest and China's only tyrannosaur species.

Part of the original excavation site is exposed to visitors with some 2,000 pieces of fossils that belong to four dinosaurs, including a tyrannosaur.

Yan Tuanxiang, chief of the museum, said both carnivorous and herbivorous dinosaurs had been identified at the site, which means they could have be a hunt taking place before all were killed by a sudden mudslide.

Compared with T-rex, which usually draws the spotlight in movies, the real superstar in the museum is a fossil of the Y-rex, or Yutyrannus huali, the world's only found tyrannosaur with feathers.

The Y-rex was about 9 meters long and weighed 1.4 metric tons. Its sharp teeth and claws made it a nightmare for its contemporary dinosaurs, Yan said.

The fossil, discovered in Liaoning province, is seen as evidence that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

In another museum, the Zhucheng Dinosaur Cubic, 48 restored dinosaur skeletons are displayed, in addition to pictures, models and videos. The most valuable exhibits include some ceratopsid dinosaur skeletons, said Wang Kebai, director of the Zhucheng Dinosaur Culture Research Center.

The ceratopsid dinosaurs were believed to exist only in North America until 2008, when Chinese scientists discovered fossils of the genus in Zhucheng. They named them Sinoceratops zhuchengensis.

Wang said the Chinese ceratopsid dinosaurs were ancestors of their North American counterparts.

"Some of them traveled from Asia to North America, as the two continents were once connected," he said.

Near the Zhucheng Dinosaur Cubic is the world's largest dinosaur fossil site, where more than 10,000 fossils have been found in diggings 500-m long and 30-m deep.

Based on this, the local government is planning a new tourism area that will include exhibitions and interactive displays. The project will take about 10 years to complete, Wang said.

The 2008 excavation also found more than 11,000 dinosaur footprints that date back some 100 million years. The site is not yet open to tourists.

Dinosaur attractions in the area welcome 500,000 visitors a year, mostly children. Activities are sometimes organized, such as simulated fossil excavations, dinosaur drawing and model skeleton installation.

"The dinosaur relics are resources owned by all of humankind," Wang said.

He added that the government plans to cooperate with Steven Spielberg, producer of the Jurassic Park movie series. "These breathtaking dinosaur sites will give him inspiration, and maybe the next episode of the story will happen in Zhucheng," Wang said.

 Zhucheng: Where dinosaurs roamed

The Zhucheng Dinosaur Cubic houses 48 restored dinosaur skeletons. Ju Chuanjiang / China Daily

(China Daily 07/29/2015 page12)