You Hailu, a researcher at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, excavates newly discovered dinosaur fossils in Lufeng, Yunnan province.

A pile of dinosaur bones is seen on a steep slope in Dinushan town, Lufeng City, Chuxiong prefecture, Southwest China’s Yunnan Province, Jan. 1, 2019. Only 3 meters wide on the platform, large and small dinosaur fossils lying in the red soil, canine teeth interlocking together, among them a thick femur and an oval abdominal ribs like a huge dandelion fan, clearly identifiable.

“There are fossils of three large, medium and small dinosaurs, belonging to the Early Jurassic sauropod group, about 190 million years ago, walking on two legs. Such a concentration of dinosaur fossils is rare in the world. The discovery of three dinosaurs at a time is a New Year’s gift for dinosaur researchers and enthusiasts.” You Hailu, the leader of the excavation team and a researcher at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told reporters.

After days of drizzling rain, the excavation team set up a plastic shed at the site, where Yuhailu and four team members dug through the wet earth and carefully removed dinosaur fossils of varying sizes, which were fixed with glue and plaster. “The fossils should be treated against weathering after exposure, and the fossils should be sketched on site to retain first-hand research data. During the excavation, we will fix and pack the fossils, and send the fossil bags to the warehouse of Lufeng Dinosaur Fossil Science Exhibition and Education Base for storage, which will be kept for future restoration, research and erection.” Yuhailu introduced the fossils while sorting them out.

“The bones of the three dinosaurs are intact except for the skull fossils. A dinosaur was about 7 to 8 meters long, about 5 meters long and about 4 meters long. Judging from the shape of the three dinosaur bones huddled together, the three dinosaurs probably lived together and died suddenly. Said Wang Tao, a member of the excavation team and director of the Lufeng City Dinosaur Fossil Protection and Research Center.

Wang’s colleague, Dong Qixing, and two graduate students in paleontology at Kunming University of Science and Technology, Zhao Zhenchen and Chen Lirunxuan, are also on the mountain every day. The excavation team was supported by a large number of experts and scholars, including Wang Qiang, expert on dinosaur eggs, Feng Wenqing, Technical Department of Vertebrate Paleontology Institute, Wang Yaming, China Geological Museum, Zhang Xinnan, Beijing Museum of Natural History, Ren Xinxin, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, and Wang Gongfu, Chuxiong Paleontological Fossil Research Center, etc.

How were these 3 dinosaurs discovered after 190 million years of sleep? On June 17, 2022, Kunming Natural Resources Comprehensive Survey Center was surveying on a barren mountain 30 kilometers away from Lufeng County. Zhao Jianbo, an assistant engineer, suddenly found a stone in the sandy soil of a steep slope, which was suspected to be a dinosaur leg bone fossil. He immediately contacted Wang Tao to check the site, and Wang Tao quickly confirmed that it was a dinosaur leg bone fossil.

On December 28, 2022, the Department of Natural Resources of Yunnan Province announced in Dinosaur Valley of Lufeng City that the dinosaur fossils discovered in Chuxiong Prefecture in recent years will be excavated and protected by the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. A total of nine dinosaur fossil sites will be excavated, including one dinosaur Mountain town in Lufeng City, two in Wande Town in Wading County, and six in Dazhuang, Damadi and Anlongbao towns in Shuangbai County.

According to Chen Jun, deputy director of the Yunnan Provincial Department of Natural Resources, the excavation of dinosaur fossils at the three sites was approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources on December 12, 2022. Most of the dinosaur fossils found this time are located on the slope, and the overall burial is shallow, and the shape of the bones is clearly distinguishable. Due to the severe weathering of the surrounding soil layer and natural phenomena such as rain erosion, some of the fossils have been exposed to the surface. It is urgent to carry out rescue excavation and effectively protect these national key conservation paleontological fossil resources.

Chuxiong Prefecture enjoys the reputation of “Kingdom of dinosaurs” and “storehouse of fossils”. This was once a haven for dinosaurs. Since the discovery of the first complete dinosaur skeleton fossil in 1938 in Shawan area of Lufeng County, more than 410 individual dinosaur fossils have been unearthed in the whole prefecture, among which more than 70 are in good condition, and a large number of dinosaur footprints have been found, especially those from the Early Jurassic. Currently, 14 species are known, accounting for 64% of the Early Jurassic dinosaurs in China. It is also one of the two best preserved sites of this period in the world (the other is South Africa).

According to the preliminary analysis of some dinosaur fossils uncovered so far, except for the dinosaur fossils in Dazhuang Town of Shuangbai County, which belong to the middle and late Jurassic period, the other eight sites belong to the Early Jurassic period. Among them, according to the fossils found in Wande Town, Wuding County, it is inferred that the local dinosaurs lived in the earliest Jurassic period, earlier than the dinosaur fauna represented by Lufeng Dragon in Lufeng Basin. The dinosaur fossil site to be excavated in Lufeng City is located in Chuanjie Basin, and the preliminary conclusion is that the newly discovered dinosaur has a large individual size, which will provide scientific basis for the comparative study between the dinosaurs in Lufeng Basin and the dinosaurs in Lufeng Basin, and further promote the in-depth study on the diversity, distribution and evolution of dinosaurs in Lufeng.

Then we will go to the Jinsha River Grand Canyon in Wuding County to excavate dinosaur fossils at two sites. After the Spring Festival, we will move to Shuangbai County, where there are more dinosaur fossils at six sites. We will finish the rescue excavation work in three counties in August.” “Wang Tao said.

“The excavation site in Wuding County may be the earliest site of dinosaur bones ever found in China.” “With the further excavation of dinosaur fossils, more and more detailed discovery, research, deduction and restoration will outline a more comprehensive existence of Early Jurassic dinosaur fossils in Yunnan, providing valuable scientific basis for the study of the origin and evolution of life,” Youhailu said.