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Flaming Cliffs - A view from our expert author


The Mongolian Gobi is a paradise for palaeontologists. One of the major attractions has been the accessibility of fossils near the surface in areas like the famous Flaming Cliffs, the red sandstone cliffs and canyons of Bayanzag (‘Rich in Saxaul’), 65km northwest of Dalanzadgad, where the American palaeontologist Roy Chapman Andrews first discovered fossil beds of dinosaur bones and the first ever recorded dinosaur eggs in 1922. These discoveries made world headlines.

The Mongolian Gobi is a paradise for palaeontologists. One of the major attractions has been the accessibility of fossils near the surface in areas such as here.

Subsequent expeditions by the American Natural History Museum followed and, though they were discontinued during the socialist period, they have now been resumed. Nine years after a communist government came to power in Mongolia in 1921, Andrews’s expeditions were stopped. This signalled the end of all Western exploration from 1930 until 1990. In the early 1990s, at the invitation of the Mongolian government, American scientists Malcolm McKenna, Mark Norell and Michael Novacek of the American Museum of Natural History gained access to remote regions in the Gobi where they found numerous new fossils which included a complete protoceratops skeleton, oviraptor eggs, velociraptor claws and a collection of ancient mammals. One significant discovery was the skull of a juvenile hadrosaur, possibly the first hadrosaur found at the Flaming Cliffs area in the South Gobi.

Scientists say that the dinosaurs were buried under the soil by sudden landslides. The barren cliffs look strikingly flame-like, especially at sunset. Look out for the desert wheatear and Asian desert warbler. Nearby there are two areas worth exploring: the dunes at Moltsog Els (22km northeast of Bayanzag) where, alongside, there’s a stand of saxaul; and a site called Tögrögiin Shiree, northwest of Bayanzag, where the dinosaur protoceratops was discovered. These areas can be reached only by jeep, a day’s outing with jeep and driver costing around US$100 (T142,500).

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