Study of fossils faces snags

A BRISK black market and competing bureaucracies could undermine the scientific payoff from fossil-rich Liaoning Province in north-east China.  

Weak laws, experts say, have failed to halt the illegal excavation and trade in fossils and scientific research is being hindered by confusing local rules, a report in the latest edition of Science magazine says.  

It was less than a decade ago that palaeontologists found spectacular new fossils from Liaoning.  

The steady stream of finds from these rich beds has given them an impressively detailed picture of life 125 million years ago.  

“You can’t find such a rich reserve elsewhere,” says Wang Xiaolin, a noted palaeontologist with the Institute for Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. 

Wang has led the institute’s fieldwork at Liaoning for seven years.  

Fossils from Liaoning helped explain the ecology of the early Cretaceous period, he adds, and resolved the riddle of whether birds evolved from dinosaurs.  

“It’s been a gold mine,” Wang said. 

Unfortunately, many local residents also discovered the “gold mine,” which is about 400km from Beijing. 

“In western Liaoning, each county has an active fossil market that may contain illicit materials of great value,” said Wang. – China Daily  

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