As promised a second guest post, this time by Susie Maidment and on the incredibly elusive Giganspinosaurus. So few people know about this stegosaur that despite being described in 1992 it didn’t even make it into that dinosaur encyclopedia that is ‘The Dinosauria‘ in 2003:
Studying dinosaurs inevitably involves a great deal of travel. During my four years studying stegosaurs, I visited 32 institutions on three continents, adding up to a total of about five months in dark basements looking at bones. I visited China for a month in 2004 in search of a number of illusive stegosaurian specimens with names that proved almost impossible to pronounce correctly, along with a fellow PhD student. Half way through our month-long trip, we arrived in Zigong, a small (by Chinese standards) city in Sichuan Province. Zigong achieved worldwide fame, at least in palaeontology circles, in the 1970s and 80s due to the discovery of a vast collection of dinosaurian fossils from the Shaximiao Formations, dating from the lowermost Middle Jurassic to the Late Jurassic. The area was at the time a lush flood plain, but periodic floods, droughts and other natural disasters led to the accumulation of large numbers of extremely well-preserved dinosaurian fossils. The discovery of a bone bed just outside Zigong led the authorities to build the imaginatively named Zigong Dinosaur Museum over the site, and today tourists can view a large collection of dinosaurian remains still in the ground, with additional specimens on display.
I was in Zigong to study one of the most interesting ornithischian dinosaurs ever discovered: the basal stegosaur Huayangosaurus. Although clearly a stegosaur because of the parallel rows of dermal plates extending vertically from the back, it bears a number of features that link it with much more primitive armoured dinosaurs, and it has helped to elucidate the order of acquisition of certain features in the evolutionary history of these ornithischians. At Zigong, they found at least one almost entirely complete specimen of Huayangosaurus, including a complete, articulated skull. Only one other complete stegosaurian skull is known from anywhere in the world: they are incredibly rare.
The road out to the Zigong Dinosaur Museum (ZDM) is a narrow strip of tarmac with a lane of dirt either side. Enormous trucks with wheels the size of your average Toyota thunder down the road and taxis weave in and out, onto the dirt and back onto the tarmac again, gambling with your life at every corner. Car travel throughout Asia is the same: there is one simple rule – don’t look out the front. Having mystifyingly defied certain death on multiple occasions, we arrived at the ZDM and were introduced to the curator, who claimed to have no knowledge of our visit and of many of the specimens we were interested in seeing. However, a few calls back to Beijing and all was sorted out: we were assigned an English-speaking guide and taken to the collections.