Fieldwork in Inner Mongolia | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

Early Miocene Aoerban locality of Inner Mongolia, China, a recently discovered exposure that is rich in fossil mammals and one of my favorite fossil localities.

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Xiaoming Wang's Fieldwork in Inner Mongolia

After the Central Asiatic Expeditions led by Roy Chapman Andrews of the American Museum of Natural History (New York) in the 1920-1930s, rich vertebrate fossils from the Tunggur region have become well known in the world. Andrews discovered the Tunggur fossil beds near what he called Wolf Camp, about 50 km to the east of Eren Hot. The Tunggur Formation produced shovel-tusked elephant, Platybelodon grangeri, along with many other mammals, which become the basis of the Tunggurian Land Mammal Age (middle Miocene, around 13-12 million years ago) in Asia. I have started to work in the Tunggur area since 1994, and in collaboration of Drs. Qiu Zhuding and Li Qiang, we have discovered a few new fossil localities that represent different ages in the Miocene and Pliocene. We continue to work in the Tunggur area in order to establish a detailed faunal sequence that will become a standard of comparison for faunas in east Asia. Our own field work has discovered numerous new localities and our studies attempt to answer questions related to the geology and vertebrate paleontology of the region, such as:

  • Biostratigraphy and magnetostratigraphy for determining ages of the basin sediments;
  • Zoogeography to learn about faunal distributions and mammal migrations;
  • Paleoenvironment through fossil plants and animals that are indicative to specific environments;
  • Plant community through the diets of mammalian herbivores (C3 vs. C4 plants);

Acknowledgments: These field works were funded by the National Science Foundation (EAR‐0924142; EAR-0716507; EAR-0446699), National Geographic Society (NGS 5527-95), Chinese National and Natural Science Foundation.

Inner Mongolia (Tunggur region) in China

The Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region has several important localities (basins) of Miocene or Pliocene in age. Work in these basins allows us an excellent sense of how vertebrates evolved during those times. By establishing a series of mammal faunas, we can demonstrate exactly how various mammals evolved through time. This image is an exposure of the Tunggur Formation at Tairum Nor locality.

Shovel-tusked elephant

The shovel-tusked elephant, Platybelodon grangeri Osborn, 1931, is perhaps the best known, certainly the most charismatic, mammal from the Tunggur fauna. The lower tusk to the right is compared to an actual shovel to the left. How this shovel-like tusk was used is still being debated.

An artist reconstruction of shovel-tusked elephants from the Tunggur Formation is attempted by Julie Selan, a mural which is on display in Abag Museum in Inner Mongolia:

Click above image for a full panorama.

Ancestral hyena

This skull of an ancestral hyena, Tungurictis spocki Colbert, 1939, was collected in 1996. It is the size of a fox, much smaller and more primitive than later hyaenids. I described this new material in 2004 (PDF download).

Crowned-antlered deer

This complete antler of an ancient deer, Stephanocemas thomsoni Colbert, 1936, is another common mammal in the classic Tunggur Formation. This crowned-antlered deer is commonly found in the middle Miocene of Eurasia. See a different species of this deer from Qaidam Basin in Tibetan Plateau.

Teeth of extinct hyena

This series of upper teeth of an another extinct hyena, Hyaenictitherium hyaenoides, is a common species in the late Miocene in Eurasia. This particular specimen was collected from Baogedawula locality in 2000. A paper describing this specimen is published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (PDF download).

A newly discovered bear dog

This single tooth (left upper first molar) of Haplocyonoides from the Aoerban Formation, a hypercarnivorous bear dog previously known in the early Miocene of Europe only, represents the first record in Asia.  It is recently published in Vertebrata PalAsiatica (PDF download).

Collaborating Institutions:

- Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (Beijing), Chinese Academy of Sciences.

- Stable Isotope Laboratory, Florida State University (Tallahassee).