The Great Chinese Dinosaur Egg Hunt

Hi. I'm Charlie and that's my wife, Florence, with me in the picture.

I thought you might like to hear about our Summer, 1995 trip to China. We planned to visit 3 dinosaur egg sites during our 10 day trip:

1. Nanxiong Basin, Guandong, Southern China, Well known deposits of dinosaur fossils and eggs. Most common egg is a raptorid species, most likely oviraptor.

2. Xixia Basin, Henan Province, Central China, Many varied types dinosaur egg types discovered

3. Newly discovered deposits in Hubei Province, Central China

Our interpreter made all the necessary arrangements before our arrival. We had written permission from the Cultural Bureau in each province that we planned to visit and from authorities in Beijing.
Our mission was to collect data and photographs (not eggs).

Our traveling companions included (from Left) Our Chinese interpreter who spoke remarkably good English considering he had never traveled outside of China, Dr. Philip Currie from the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Alberta, Canada, Chinese Geologist, Photographer extrodinaire, Louie Psihoyos, his assistant John Knoebber, master of humor, and me on the right. Not shown is Florence (she took the picture) nor the driver of our mini-van and its contents which included luggage for 6 people, camera equipment, Johnny Walker, Glen Livet and a foot locker full of food and water from home (just in case).

The Journey Begins

Our mission seemed simple enough, arrangements all in place....hours traveled half way around the world to Hong Kong...Then a flight to Guangzhou, Southern China, piloted by Chinese, that landed with such a jolt that we were amazed the landing gear sustained the impact...then crammed into a mini-van with all the darkened windows closed, (our interpreter cited security when we all asked ,"why?") for a 100 kilometers ride north on roads so rutted that my shoulder was bruised when I arrived in Nanxiong.

Great relief.!!!..We finally arrived in Nanxiong

Glad to not be moving and ready to see the first egg site....but wait !!! .. not so fast....In China one must first negotiate.... for hours....while guests wait in concrete hotel rooms.... in a place so far from anywhere that Florence wondered if we would ever see our children again. Alas...

We did NOT have permission from the Public Security Bureau....the PSB...the Chinese police ... the official officials.

They did allow us to visit the local museum .... without cameras. No cameras??? No Louie !!! He's a walking camera!! Can't let him in here !!! You can see for yourself....he's not in the above picture that Florence shot at the entrance to the museum . We saw some interesting Kong Long (Terrifying Dragon) fossils and took notes....that's all. Another hot bumpy 8 hour ride back to the airport in Guangzhou.
Twice our requests to visit egg sites were refused in cities 1000 miles apart. Five days into our trip and no pictures of eggs or fossils of any kind. The unofficials who had officially granted permission for our visit were powerless to help us. Guests in China....especially Western guests...are expected to bring money....the more the better....for the official PSB officials they chance to meet along the way.

Get Us A Helicopter !!!!

Denied access to the first two egg sites, we were determined not to miss the third and most recently discovered site. We were told, by our interpreter that it was too far. This had never stopped Louie before...."Just get us a helicopter !", Louie announced. "Impossible !!! " was the reply.....a word we heard often from our interpreter.

Not to be defeated, we made a pact a dinner.

We would get to the site no matter what. We didn't care what we had to pay. Just to be sure we wouldn't miss out a third time, we decided that we would go to the site first, ask permission later. We left Nanyang City, Central China the next morning at 5 a.m. This time in a good sized bus with the air conditioning dripping on us as we bounced along. We felt like a large fish swimming upstream through schools of bicycles with people commuting to the city for the day. With one hand on the wheel and the other on the horn, our driver weaved and honked his way through this glimpse of life in China. One crushed bicycle in the middle of the road gave us real cause to call this rush hour "crush hour".

Here's me and Florence somewhere in Central China. Photo by John Knoebber, click the image to zoom to see what a curious site we were to the people of China.


Finally reaching our destination in Hubei Province, we were met by more Chinese unofficial officials...more negotiations...more long waits in stuffy concrete hotel rooms. Finally, Phil came in to announce that the unofficial officials of the Cultural Bureau would escort us to the site without notifying the official PSB officials. Another bumpy ride, but this time only 45 minutes up a beautiful valley... winding past the Red Stone Village through farmland and orange groves, up to Green Dragon Mountain....so well named, strictly by accident.

We're Here and They Really are EGGS !!!!

The eggs we found, or what impressions they left on the surface, were untouched. Some could be seen sandwiched in the strata. I found them used in the terrace walls in the fields and in the stucco walls of their homes. I searched hard to find a fragment of bone or a complete egg but found neither.

The people were also untouched...as amazed at the sight of us and our collection of modern camera equipment as we were at the site of these eggs. The kids quickly understood why we came and led us from place to place showing us more and more deposits of eggs, cascading down the hillside in a valley that was inhabited by great herds of dinosaurs over 65 million years ago. Shown here are a few of the villagers who watched every move we curious visitors made.

 

During the minutes (not hours) we were allowed to stay there, Phil and Florence mapped and recorded 153 dinosaur eggs in nested groupings of as many as 23 in one group. There was so precious little time, but we learned so much. Florence and I would like to thank Phil for all the knowledge he has shared with us.

 
We shot a lot of video too. Maybe we'll put some of it on line sometime.

We gotta GO !!!!

Reluctant to leave we all looked back for one last look at the village we would, very likely, never see again. For sure it would never be like this again. Here's a picture of Louie getting one last photo as we clung to the moment. The bus was already loaded with all the official unofficials, waiting to rush us away to more hours of negotiations. The PSB.... official officials, having learned of our secret visit to the site, were waiting for us. This time we were ready with the cash.


For all the hardships and disappointments, in the end, we were lucky. We accomplished our goal ...to catch a glimpse of this precious moment in time. Our interpreter learned the art of negotiation (bring cash) and turned out to be an excellent student in the American School of Humor as taught by John Knoebber, a star graduate. Many thanks to John. His humor sustained us through many a dreary or tense moment. Thanks also to Louie. It was an honor to be there to see him perform his magic. He is the best !!! His book is a delight. Click here to see it. We still have autographed copies available.

One more banquet, a few more rounds of beer with the official unofficials. "Gambey" to all and to all a good journey....we were on the road again. Two more days of bouncing around on the hand hewn "highways" of China gave us all time to reflect on what now seems almost like a dream. For Florence, a roller coaster ride of emotions touching all you can name. We dream of someday returning, but realize it's unlikely. One thing's for sure...Florence and I will never be the same again after our visit to Green Dragon Mountain. Here's a picture of the mountain...you can click for a zoom. Do you see the Green Dragon resting there, keeping watch over what was once his great flock?

Travel Documentary by Charlie and Florence Magovern

Photos by Florence Magovern & John Knoebber

 Click Here to go to National Geographic's web story about Charlie's discovery.
Click Here to go to the start of National Geographic's DinoEgg web feature. 
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A scene in Montana 75 million years ago, by James Gurney, 1997 commissioned by the United States Postal Service for a limited edition of collectible stamps now out of print.