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The Kulinda fossil site

The feathered ornithischian dinosaur Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus was found at a site called Kulinda on the banks of the Olov River, in Zabaikal District, in Siberia, as described by Godefroit et al. (2014).


The remote Kulinda dinosaur locality, in the midst of the rich Siberian grasslands.

The first bone was found by Professor Sofia M. Sinitsa from the Institute of Natural Resources, Ecology and Cryology SB RAS in Chita in summer 2010, while she was conducting a geological survey in the Olov Depression along the small Kulinda River, close to Chernyshevsk village inside the Upper-Darasunskaya geological party in July 2010. Then, Sinitsa with a small team conducted a further series of excavations in September 2010. So dinosaur bones were found in two trenches. In 2012, she invited Dr Pascal Godefroit from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, a world expert on ornithischian dinosaurs, to be involved.


Russian and Belgian palaeontologists hard at work excavating slabs of rock containing dinosaur bones and skin structures.

The Kulinda locality is Middle to Late Jurassic in age, about 169-144 million years ago, and probably in the older part of this range, say from 169-150 million years ago. Its age is established from regional mapping in Siberia and from preliminary K/Ar dating. The Kulinda locality rocks belong to the lower part of the Ukureyskaya Formation, which covers large areas around Kulinda, and this geological formation is dated from associated plant and insect fossils which can be compared, and correlated, with fossils from other places to give the age.

In more detail, the age of the Ukureyskaya Formation is established based on comparisons of the paleoentomological and the microfaunal contents with the Glushkovo Formation in the Unda-Daya Depression, giving an age of Late Jurassic to Early Cretaceous (Sinitsa and Starukhina 1986; Sinitsa 2011). However, recent K-Ar dating suggests a slightly older age: the entire Ukureyskaya Formation ranges between 169 and 144 Ma (Sinitsa 2011), corresponding to a Bajocian-Tithonian age (Middle to Late Jurassic) (Gradstein et al. 2012).

The Ukureyskaya Formation consists of massive and alternating sandstones, siltstones, tuffaceous sandstones, tuffaceous siltstones, and tuffites, indicating some local volcanic activity. The dinosaur bones are associated with abundant, well-preserved fossils of plants, insect larvae, and freshwater crustaceans that suggest deposition in a low-energy, probably lacustrine, freshwater environment. Dinosaur fossils include the extensive collection of ornithischian elements and a single shed tooth from a medium-sized theropod.


Temporary field storage of the rich fossil collections from the Kulinda locality.

Sofia Sinitsa (left), Pascal Godefroit (centre), and Yuri Bolotsky (right) inspect newly found fossils in the field.
The Kulindadromeus fossils include six incomplete skulls and several hundred disarticulated skeletons unearthed from two neighbouring monospecific bone beds. Each individual skeletal element is represented by a single morphotype, and all of the observed morphological differences can be explained by ontogenetic and intraspecific variation, as confirmed by the detailed study of the partial skeletons. Therefore, there is no indication that more than one basal ornithischian is present. Many of the bones are strongly iron-stained, suggesting partial replacement during diagenesis.

The two bonebeds are separated by 20 m in the section thickness. The upper bonebed yields rare bones and associated integumentary structures. The lower bonebed comprises a finely laminated, organic-rich claystone and is completely devoid of dispersed quartz grains. Some of the bones in this horizon are articulated and delicate integumentary structures are preserved as a thin layer of carbon. It is clear that this horizon was deposited in a very calm environment, far from clastic sources. The matrix of this bonebed is highly indurated, and laminae are occasionally deformed; some skeletal elements are preserved as external moulds.


References

  • Godefroit, P., Sinitsa, S.M., Dhouailly, D., Bolotsky, Y.L., Sizov, A.V., McNamara, M.E., Benton, M.J., and Spagna, P. 2014. A Jurassic ornithischian dinosaur from Siberia with both feathers and scales. Science 345, 451-455 (doi: 10.1126/science.1253351). pdf. Supplementary file.
  • Gradstein, F.M. et al. 2012. The Geologic Time Scale 2012. Elsevier, Boston.
  • Sinitsa, S.M. 2011. [New data on dinosaurs from Zabaikal'ya], in Environmental Cooperative Studies in the Cross-Border Ecological Region: Russia, China, and Mongolia, S. M. Sinitsa, Ed. Institute of Natural Resources, Ecology and Cryology, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Chita, Russia, pp. 173-176. (In Russian.)
  • Sinitsa, S.M. and Starukhina, S. 1986. [New data and problems of stratigraphy and paleontology of Upper Mesozoic of Trans-Baikal region],in Novye dannye po geologii Zabaikal'ya. Geolfond RSFSR, Moscow, pp. 46-51. (In Russian.)

Read more

A nice report of the find, with many images taken in the field.

Reconstruction images

Reconstructions of this amazing dinosaur are here.

Videos

Copyright movie showing the dig site: https://www.dropbox.com/s/fn0hhslgvg0khjw/selection%20Kunlinda2.mov


Dicynodon Illustration courtesy of John Sibbick.
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