Meet Paleoartist Henry Sharpe, our Fall 2017 Featured Artist

It’s our pleasure to introduce you to our Fall 2017 Featured Artist, Henry Sharpe. Check out his painting on our homepage. We invited him to write a guest blog post about his work, and were fortunate to meet him person this month at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Calgary, where his work was featured in a paleoart show for conference attendees. 

Hi, my name is Henry Sharpe. I am a Canadian palaeoartist (someone who draws prehistoric life). I am hoping to go into a career in palaeontology, and I do think that there are several moments that made me want to pursue this path more than others. There were the standard visits to the museum and viewings of Jurassic Park that really got me excited to learn about dinosaurs, but there is one fossil in particular (that actually hailed from Mongolia) that I think really made me want to learn the most I could about dinosaurs.

Kourisodon puntledgensis mosasaur with Pachydiscus ammonites, by Henry Sharpe. All rights reserved.

When I was 10, my dad (who runs a scientific illustration firm, which is pretty cool)  was taking a short trip to New York City to meet a client. I had just finished a few weeks learning how to draw and sculpt dinosaurs at a camp at the Royal Ontario Museum, and when he told me we could visit the American Museum of Natural History (as well as a super cool long-necked dinosaur exhibit a friend of his had worked on), I was really eager to try out some of the techniques I had learned at ROM camp. We were only there for one night, so we were traveling pretty light (a backpack each with a change of clothes), put I had room for a small sketchbook, and my dad brought some pencils for the both of us. When we got to the museum, I was captivated by all the skeletons, but most, like the T. rex, the Edmontosaurus, and the Coelophysis, I had already seen at the ROM. That was why I was so enamoured with the Deinocheirus.

A pudgy scaly Gorgosaurus libratus. (No feathers means a lot of extra fat in a cold environment, even if the authors of that scaly paper haven’t realized that yet.) Copyright Henry Sharpe, all rights reserved.

At that point, 3 years before palaeontologists would describe a complete skeleton that would show just how weird this animal truly was, all that was known was a pair of gargantuan arms. I had read about them in my own mini-library of dinosaur books, each of which gave a different perspective of this strange beast. First it was a cousin of Ornithomimus, the ostrich-mimic dinosaur. Then it was a Therizinosaur, a group of massive, long-clawed herbivores. One book even put it as a massive carnivore, whose proportions indicated a massive killer twice the size of T. rex. So when I saw the arms, mounted in a grasping posture, I crouched down and started to draw them, trying to get down every detail so I could remember it back at home. This animal was my first up-close glimpse of how strange and wonderful the dinosaurs outside of common public knowledge could be. The cool ones were T. rex and Brontosaurus, because they were big and standardly dinosaur-shaped, the perfect image of what dinosaurs were supposed to be. But the Deinocheirus was different, and that was cool! It was not only much more interesting to my young mind then T. rex or Brontosaurus, but showed an opportunity to learn more, that we hadn’t learned everything about dinosaurs. I think that that fossil, combined with days roaming around the halls of the ROM to find all the dinosaurs known only from little bits, inspired me not just to try to learn everything we know about dinosaurs, but also everything we don’t know.

A Velociraptor peers inquisitively at a Plesiohadros, puzzled to see such a rare large species in an environment of mostly smaller animals. A departure from the stereotype of a ravenous carnivore in favour of its more likely birdlike nature. Copyright Henry Sharpe all rights reserved.

Anyway, now, six years later, I am in high school, drawing dinosaurs whenever I can. In the summer, I work at the ROM’s summer camp, the same one that I learned to draw dinosaurs in. I’ve also started a small research project helped by scientists from the ROM on a group of creatures who I fell in love with at the ROM; the mosasaurs. None are from Mongolia, unfortunately, but I’m trying to learn about aspects of them that no one has really looked at yet. Maybe I’ll find something new, maybe not, but I love (probably thanks to our buddy the Deinocheirus) to try to dive into these unexplored areas of their biology. Someday I’d love to join a research trip to Mongolia; my project supervisor, palaeontologist David Evans (a great guy who puts up with a lot of questions from me) conducts research on duck-billed dinosaurs from Mongolia, and I’d love to tag along when I’m a bit older and hopefully learn about the stranger cousins of the dinosaurs I grew up seeing in the ROM!

You can see more of Henry’s work and contact him for paleoart commissions at

Meet Undraa, our Volunteer of the Quarter

Every quarter, we like to acknowledge the work of one of our volunteers, and help you get to know our team in the process. This quarter, we’re pleased to introduce you to Undrakhsaikhan Tumen. Undraa manages the Bayanzag Facebook page and posts photos and stories from the Flaming Cliffs and surrounding community. Our Executive Director Bolortsetseg Minjin interviewed her for this post. 

How did you first get involved with the ISMD?

My brother who works in Bulgan town told me about ISMD and I wanted to get involved. He gave me Bolortsetseg’s phone number and Facebook name. So I contacted Bolortsetseg and I said to her I would like to work with ISMD.

What do you like about volunteering with the ISMD?

I live in Bulgan town so ISMD is going to implement the very good project in Bulgan town and other paleontology areas. I watched Roy Chapman Andrews’s documentary while I worked in Three Camel Lodge, then I red “On the Trail of Ancient Man” by Roy Chapman Andrews translated by Gereltuv D. He gifted me after printing this book. So I would like to work in paleontology. ISMD gave me this opportunity.

Undraa at the Flaming Cliffs, where the first Mongolian dinosaur – Protoceratops – was discovered in 1923.
What do you do when you are not volunteering with the ISMD?

My profession is Tourist Manager, so I host tourists as a local guide in the Gobi. While I stay at home, I take care of my sons. I have two sons.

Describe something related to paleontology that you have always wanted to do.

We should protect paleontologically important areas. Also, help keep fossils in Mongolia and make books about paleontological sites, fossils, and Mongolian paleontology history.

What’s your favorite Mongolian dinosaur?

My favorite dinosaur is Protoceratops, because Protoceratops was the first dinosaur discovered in Mongolia. I think Protoceratops opened a new door for paleontology in Mongolia.

Keep up with Undraa and everything happening at the Flaming Cliffs by following our Bayanzag Facebook page.

Protoceratops: a Frill, a Beak… and an Attitude

Protoceratops in profile. Image from the American Museum of Natural History archives, used with permission.

Protoceratops was hungry. A stocky plant-eater the size of a sheep with wide, strong feet, and a frill on the back of its head, it used its parrot-like beak to shear tough plants in a wash between sand dunes. It was not alone. Another dinosaur was hungry too–a meat-eating feathered dinosaur who bore wickedly sharp, curved claws on its back feet. Although it was smaller than Protoceratops, Velociraptor planned to take its prey by surprise. It charged. An electric crack of thunder filled the air. Left claw pierced neck, sharp beak gripped a feathered arm in self-defense, and as the rain began to pour, both animals struggled for their lives, each locked in a deadly grip of claw, beak, frill, and feathers. Neither noticed as the wash began to fill with thick wet sand from a collapsing dune upstream.

Protoceratops speculatively reconstructed chilling out in a tree like goats sometimes do in the Gobi Desert. Art by John Conway, used with permission.

Both animals lay buried, their bones still locked in mortal combat, until 45 years ago, when scientists from the Mongolian-Polish Expedition found them embedded in sandstone cliffs in the Gobi Desert. Today, the incredible specimen known as the Fighting Dinosaurs resides in the collections of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences in Ulaanbaatar, a few hundred miles and roughly 75 million years from the place and time of their death.

Protoceratops reconstruction by Emily Willoughby for ISMD

Although both Velociraptor and Protoceratops are stars of Mongolian paleontology, this week we’re focusing on Protoceratops, which thrived in a region now known as Bayanzag, in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia. During the Late Cretaceous, 75 to 70 million years ago, this was a different desert – one with many towering sand dunes and abundant plant life. This tough little dinosaur grazed, hatched eggs, and gathered in herds for protection. They are among the most abundant fossils found in the Gobi. For thousands of years, people who lived and traveled through the desert surely noticed these strange animal skulls with frills and beaks. In 1922, an expedition from the American Museum of Natural History traveled to Bayanzag and began studying the fossils scientifically. In 1923, the first scientific paper about this dinosaur was published, giving it the formal name Protoceratops andrewsi. Today we know that Protoceratops was one of the earliest types of frilled, horned dinosaurs called ceratopsids. It is one of the dinosaurs that has been most studied by paleontologists due to the sheer number of exceptional fossil examples. Large samples are critical to science and statistical analysis, but most dinosaur species, unlike Protoceratops, are known from just one or two specimens.

The “Fighting Dinosaurs” fossil from Mongolia is one of the most famous and remarkable in the world. A Protoceratops and a Velociraptor, entangled in death, were buried together. While it’s possible one was already dead at the time of burial and the other was scavenging its corpse, the equally-likely scenario that they were actually captured mid-fight has captivated the imaginations of paleontologists and the public alike since they were first discovered in the Gobi Desert in 1971.
Photo by Yuya Tamai from Gifu, Japan (2014-03-25 13.04.52) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Seven Facts about Protoceratops

  1. Protoceratops lived around 75 to 71 million years ago, during the  Cretaceous Period.
  2. Protoceratops means “first horn face” in Latin. Scientists gave it that name because when it was discovered, it was believed to be the ancestor of dinosaurs like Triceratops that had huge horns on their faces.
  3. They were not very big. Adult males were only about 6 feet/1.8 meters from head to tail. Many grown Protoceratops were only about as big as a sheep! Some baby Protoceratops that have been discovered were only 4-6 inches/10-15 cm long when they were buried.
  4. Protoceratops had a big frill of bone that grew from the back of the head. The frill may have been used for impressing other dinosaurs, recognizing each other from a distance, or defense against lethal neck bites.
  5. Like all ceratopsians (frilled-head dinosaurs), Protoceratops had pointy cheek bones called epijugals. The epijugals of Protoceratops were more cone-shaped than most ceratopsians.
  6. Protoceratops babies liked to huddle together in a nest – possibly to help protect each other from strong winds and sandstorms.
  7. They only ate plants, using their sharp beaks to cut and their molars to chew.


 A. D. Fitzgerald is a technical communicator, life-long paleontology enthusiast, and ISMD volunteer.



Prehistoric Life: the Definitive Visual History of Life on Earth, Dorling Kindersley 2009

The Complete Dinosaur, 2nd Edition, Indiana University Press, 2012

Smithsonian magazine, “At Last, a True Protoceratops Nest,” Switek, Nov. 3, 2011

Life and Death in a 70 million-year-old Sand Sea,” Fastovsky, 2000

Velociraptor and Utahraptor: How do the cousins compare after new information comes to light?

Putting together the pieces

Velociraptor was a dinosaur whose name was made famous in the 1993 film ‘Jurassic Park’.  This animal and its relatives belong to a group of dinosaurs called Dromaeosaurs or “running lizards”. Some have just grown used to calling it “The Raptor Family”.

This group is pretty diverse for dinosaurs. Raptors existed around the world during the Cretaceous. Many lived very different lifestyles.  Now what does this have to do with ‘Jurassic Park’? Well, not long after the release of the film in 1993, a very large raptor was discovered in Utah. Utahraptor, This animal would go on to star in a popular book called “Raptor Red” written by Robert T. Bakker. Unfortunately not much could be known about the animal because of the few remains uncovered at the time.  In order to fill gaps in our understanding, scientists reconstructed it using elements from other raptors like Velociraptor and Deinonychus. For many years this raptor combo was the best that could be done….Until now!

The Lucky Break

Recently, some new Utahraptor specimens have come to light thanks to the work of Utah State Paleontologist Dr. James Kirkland and a team of researchers. This allowed artists to more accurately reconstruct the animal anatomically.

So? What does this all mean? How is it any different from its famous cousin Velociraptor?

History of Study

Unlike the environments in Utah during Utahraptor’s time (the Early Cretaceous), Velociraptor lived in a very different environment.  Velociraptor was first discovered in the Flaming Cliffs of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia during the 1920s in the midst of the American Museum of Natural History’s Central Asiatic Expeditions.  Since then teams have traveled there to study the paleontology of the region, occasionally giving more insight into what that area was like in Velociraptor’s time.  Unlike the Velociraptors in ‘Jurassic Park’, The Gobi Desert’s Velociraptor was a small turkey sized predator. Over time it became clear that the Gobi hadn’t changed much since the Cretaceous period and that even then, it was a very dry environment. An environment geologists call “Aeolian”. Aeolian environments are formed by the erosion of rock and the movement and deposition of particles and sands by wind. These are environments that are known to lack vegetation and typically represent dry environments.   Since the 1920s a lot has been discovered about Velociraptor and its relatives. One of the more striking developments is the fact that these dinosaurs had feathers.

Body Language of another sort…

These two raptors called different places home and their anatomy suggests that they survived in very different ways.

Skeletal Diagram of Velociraptor
Velociraptor mongoliensis by artist Scott Hartman. Used with permission.
Life reconstruction of Velociraptor
Velociraptor life reconstruction by Emily Willoughby. Used with permission.


A few things stand out about Velociraptor. The tail stands out because it has what are called caudal rods (Caudal being Latin for posterior or rear) These encase the tail vertebrae, keeping the tail straight.  This may have helped maintain balance.  Now let’s take a look at the bones of the feet. These are called metatarsals. If you look closely you will see that they are elongated. Much like the feet of a rabbit, this is useful for running.  The last piece that concerns us for now is the femur. This is the bone that connects the knee joint and the hip bones.  In Velociraptor it is short. Why is this useful? As the leg moves to run a short femur allows for a more efficient stride.

It becomes clear that Velociraptor is an animal that is well adapted to a lifestyle that is dependent on running or sprinting.

Utahraptor appears to be much bulkier.  Utahraptor is missing many of velociraptor’s previously mentioned features. No caudal rods, short metatarsals and it appears to have a longer femur.  Assessing an animal’s shape to understand its lifestyle is a science all its own. We call this “functional morphology”. This is one of the many techniques scientists use to study dinosaurs all over the world.

Utahraptor skeletal reconstruction copyright Scott Hartman. Used with permission.



Utahraptor Life reconstruction.
Utahraptor life reconstruction by Emily Willoughby.

One other noticeable feature in Utahraptor is that it has very high neural spines and a very robust ilium in the pelvis. These elements could have been to house powerful back muscles which would be required for an animal to climb. Whether it climbed aboard it’s prey or not, is largely speculation.

It should also be noted that the famous Sickle claw on the middle toe in raptors (and other close relatives that we call (’Eumaniraptorans’) is pointed at the tip but the inner ridge does not form a blade like surface which would make it a poor cutting object or disemboweling tool (as it is frequently portrayed). This may mean that the sickle claw was a better climbing tool than weapon.

Both Velociraptor and Utahraptor possess this tool (along with many of its relatives, including some early birds)  so we can infer that it was probably beneficial for both species, whichever way it was being used.

Velociraptor  is only known with certainty to attack a small horned dinosaur called Protoceratops. This can be seen in the famous “Fighting Dinosaurs” fossil. This fossil is special because it clearly shows an interaction between Protoceratops and Velociraptor in combat. These animals were buried together very quickly.  Some thought during a sandstorm or the sudden collapse of a dune. This left the remains of the two animals locked together. These remains were recovered in the 1970s by polish and Mongolian paleontologists.

Final Thoughts….

These two raptors have very different morphologies in many of the same structures. This allows researchers to see the differences. Not only in terms of anatomy but lifestyle as well. Utahraptor being the newly revealed heavy weight that probably grappled with heavy prey items while Velociraptor was lightly built and adapted for running and pursuing its prey.   Things like the structure of the bones in their feet and the length of certain bones in the legs tell us how well adapted an animal is for running. The stiffness of the tail being a strong indicator about how much an animal might rely on keeping balance.

You can support our work to preserve Mongolia’s natural history and promote research and education in the region here:




Works Cited

“Central Asiatic Expeditions.” Omeka RSS. American Museum Of Natural History, n.d. Web. 29 May 2017. <>.

Fraser, Garnet. ““Bizarre Structures” Point to Dromaeosaurs as Parasites and a New Theory for the Origin of Avian Flight.” Page 2-4,The Journal of Paleontological Sciences, JPS.C.2014.01, Accessed 5/31/17.

Hartman, Scott. “At Long Last… Utahraptor.” Scott Hartman’s Skeletal N.p., n.d. Web. 29 May 2017. <>.

Hartman, Scott. “Theropod Skeletal Reconstructions.” Scott Hartman’s Skeletal N.p., n.d. Web. 29 May 2017. <>.

Kirkland, J. I., D. Burge, and R. Gaston. 1993. A large dromaeosaur (Theropoda) from the Lower Cretaceous of eastern Utah. Hunteria 2:1-16.

Manning, Phillip L., Lee Margetts, Mark R. Johnson, Philip J. Withers, William I. Sellers, Peter L. Falkingham, Paul M. Mummery, Paul M. Barrett, and David R. Raymont. “Biomechanics of Dromaeosaurid Dinosaur Claws: Application of X-Ray Microtomography, Nanoindentation, and Finite Element Analysis.” Figure 7,The Anatomical Record: Advances in Integrative Anatomy and Evolutionary Biology 292.9 (2009): 1397-405. Web.

Osborn, Henry Fairfield, Peter C. Kaisen, and George Olsen. Three new theropoda, Protoceratops zone, central Mongolia. American Museum of Natural History, 1924.

Pagnac,Darrin “Lecture 13:Theropods 1” Dinosaur Paleontology. South Dakota School of Mines, Rapid City, SD. Spring 2016. Class Lecture

“Superficial Muscles of the Back, Intermediate Muscles of the Back, Deep Muscles of the Back.” Muscles of the Back. University of Arkansas: Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Science, n.d. Web. 31 May 2017. <>.

“The Fighting Dinosaurs.” AMNH. American Museum Of Natural History, n.d. Web. 29 May 2017. <>.

Surveying at Bulgan Sum

It was late March, after a great snowstorm, and the morning sun was shining in the clear blue sky of Bulgan sum. The ISMD team was ready to head to the Flaming Cliffs – except for one person, me.

Binderiya Munkhbat leading a dinosaur workshop in Dalanzadgad in the Gobi, March 2017

I am Binderiya Munkhbat, educator and translator for the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs. My task on this day was to stay in the village and survey locals about building a dinosaur museum nearby. We wanted to learn how the local people felt about building a dinosaur museum near their village, and gauge their desire to learn more about Mongolia’s own dinosaurs. Munkhsaikhan, the ranger of Bulgan sum, found a volunteer from Altain Khoilog, a local kid’s nature club, to help me to go around and meet people.

It was Sunday morning around 9 am – still early for Arvijikh, our teenage volunteer, who was barely awake when I went to her home. She offered to be our first survey respondent, and I interviewed her as we walked to our first family house. She was so excited when she was answering my questions, because she had participated in our dinosaur workshop at the Flaming Cliffs in 2015.

Not far, we stopped in front of the door of the first family ger. Surprisingly, Arvijikh pulled the door and stepped into the ger directly. I stood still for a moment then followed her to get in. An average Mongolian ger (or yurt) is not that big. However, 6-8 people can sleep over. In the ger, everyone was getting up. Probably we woke them up. Sleepy eyes looked at me with wonder. I greeted everyone, and introduced myself by explaining why I was there. A man, who might have been the householder, sat down, and agreed to take a survey. When I was asking questions and talking to him, his family members were giving their own opinions too. For instance, they would like to learn about Mongolian dinosaurs that were found near where they live, because sometimes they hear that expeditions find things, but they never get detailed news. One respondent showed interest in helping researchers to find fossils in the field, and asked if there will be some paid jobs.

Then we headed to the next family. We visited 5 or 6 houses, but all the adults weren’t at home. After the tough snowstorm – the most severe in 20 years – everyone was trying to support herders outside the village. Later, we hit some empty doors, so we went to Arvijikh’s friend’s house. There I met two men who’d helped us on the road getting through this massive snow to come in Bulgan. One was a professional wrestler named Sumiya and the other was his friend. They were waiting for the family elders when I came.

My time was running out, so I asked the wrestler to be our next respondent while we waited. Even though he lives in Ulaanbaatar city, he originally came from Bulgan village. He visits his home town every summer, he said. He and his friend really appreciated the idea of building a museum of dinosaurs from the Flaming Cliffs.

When we were talking about what they know about dinosaurs generally, the householders came in. It was a nice chance for me to take another survey from an elder person. I surveyed the husband, who was 76 years old and had never been in school. Also he said he had never visited a museum. He shared his opinion and said that having a museum is good, but it’s important that the museum and its exhibits should be the property of the local community.

After we had a nice talk with these elders and city people, we went to the small shops in the area. The main street of the village has four small shops, and three of them sell food. The shops are all run by women in their 40s. I surveyed all four in their shops. All the ladies were positive about the museum and keen to visit it with their families when it opens.

The shops at Bulgan Sum, March 2017

One woman saw me in the last two shops, and she came up to me when I finished surveying the owner of the last shop. She was a teacher in secondary school, and she wanted to fill out the survey, even though I hadn’t asked her, which was really nice of her. She was watching me in each shop when I was surveying the owner lady. She said, she would like to volunteer to run a workshop or be a guide for others who visit the museum. Also her children run a small booth selling things to tourists at the Flaming Cliffs during summer time, so she would like to let her children be a guide at the dinosaur museum, if there will be any open recruitment for jobs.

By the time she finished filling out the survey, I could see the car the ISMD team took to the Flaming Cliffs driving back into town. My work was finished with the teacher’s response. I was pretty satisfied with all those responses and comments even though I surveyed only a few people.

Now we know that locals are somewhat enthusiastic about learning about Mongolian dinosaurs, and they feel positive about having a real dinosaur museum near their hometown which can protect their heritage and environment.

The Frozen Cliffs

Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs director Thea Boodhoo is documenting our latest mission to plan a museum at the Flaming Cliffs. (You can help us cover some of the costs.)

The Flaming Cliffs are the first place dinosaur fossils were discovered in Mongolia, during a 1922 expedition of American scientists and local translators and guides. It was Roy Chapman Andrews, the expedition leader, who named them the Flaming Cliffs and later wrote about them, revisiting several times, and capturing the imagination of the public.

“Roy Chapman Andrews and Merin with camel at Flaming Cliffs, Mongolia, 1925.” From the AMNH Digital Special Collections.

For the people who live there, the area has always been known as Bayanzag. It has become one of Mongolia’s top tourist destinations and sort of holy pilgrimage for dinosaur enthusiasts. It is protected by the local government and surrounded by tourists camps. Two dirt roads approach the cliffs, and in the summer you can find vendors at the top, selling felt camel toys, silver bowls, and jewelry. There is no museum, no visitors center, no marked trails, no signs, and nothing telling tourists there’s a town nearby called Bulgan.

We left Bulgan for the Flaming Cliffs shortly after sunrise in a three-car caravan, Munkhsaikhan and her husband in the lead. They had every hill and wash memorized, and expertly led us through the snow-covered landscape without a hitch.

Something tells me we wouldn’t have made it on our own.

It’s rare to see snow in the Gobi, and much rarer to see this much of it. So before we get to the Flaming Cliffs, it’s only fair of me to share a few more photos of the journey.

And then the Flaming Cliffs were finally in sight.

After travelling across an ocean to Ulaanbaatar, an entire day on the road just to get to the Gobi, the many days in Dalanzadgad spent waiting for the snow to stop, and even the night before in Bulgan wondering if we’d make it to the Flaming Cliffs at all, it felt like we’d achieved something monumental just getting there.

The whole team, with Sugarkhuu behind the camera.

We explored what we could. It’s impossible to get an accurate feel of the scale of this place from photos, which is one reason our architect Walt needed to be here in person to scout possible locations for the museum. At the edge of the cliffs, we did what exploring we could safely, thinking about trails and informational signs, before stepping back to the flat plain, where a museum would make the most sense.

Now thinking about the museum in earnest, we went through our many considerations. Erosion is a huge one – extreme temperature differences throughout the year mean cracks in the rock grow quickly. Sparse vegetation leaves sandstone exposed to wind, a constant battering presence in the Gobi, and rain, which happens rarely here, but when it does it’s a force to be reckoned with. Flash floods have caught expeditions by surprise, nearly wiping out entire campsites. The sandstone itself is so soft you can rub it off a fossil with your forefinger. In short, all the things that make Bayanzag such an excellent place to find dinosaurs also make it an exceptionally challenging place to build a dinosaur museum.

Another question we must ask ourselves is how much attention we want the museum to draw to itself. The opportunity to create an iconic masterpiece of architecture, like so many urban museums, is tempting, but we all agreed early on that the real masterpiece at Bayanzag has already been created by nature. The design of the building should minimize its presence, and let the sandstone and the sky speak for themselves.

As we move forward with legal details and budgeting, we’ll share more about which locations we’re considering and what the museum might look like on the inside and out. There are many ways you can help, from volunteering to fundraising to donating and simply spreading the word by sharing our project with your friends and colleagues. If you’ve enjoyed the photos from this post, I’ve added a couple as wall art to our shop.

Needless to say, we all made it home safe and sound and caught our planes on time. Thank you for following along with our March adventure through the highs and lows. We’re thrilled to have made it despite everything and in a lot of ways, glad we experienced the journey under the most difficult circumstances possible. We learned so much about the challenges of life out here and in our down time while we were snowed in, we made plans we’re excited about for helping the people of the Gobi in every way we can as we move forward.

Now the real work starts.

Meet our Volunteer of the Quarter, Markie Massey

Markie Massey, our Spring 2017 Volunteer of the Quarter

We recently held our second quarterly board meeting. It was precisely three minutes shorter than our first, at two hours and twenty-two minutes. At least six of those minutes were spent discussing and voting for our first Volunteer of the Quarter. We didn’t think of it at the last meeting because, well, we didn’t have a lot of volunteers. Now we have (*checking*) thirteen! Crazy.

One of them has been especially enthusiastic and dedicated this quarter, and if you follow our Twitter feed, you already know her work. Markie Massey took over the Twitter account for me a few months ago and has posted far more regularly than I had time for, helping to forward our mission of building awareness of Mongolian dinosaurs and paleontology around the world.

She let us subject her to a short interview so you could get to know her better.

ISMD: How did you first get involved with the ISMD?

Markie: I first heard about the ISMD from an episode of the I Know Dino podcast. Thea had been interviewed on the show about her work in the ISMD and brought up the [Indiegogo] campaign. I’ve been in love with Mongolian paleontology since my college years, back when I started reading about Roy Chapman Andrews, and had to go check out the campaign. I donated and kept up with the newsletters, excited to see all the awesome dinosaur education going on out in the Gobi. One of the updates sent out asked for volunteers and I replied right away. I wanted to be a part of the ISMD in some way.

ISMD: What do you like about volunteering with the ISMD?

Markie: Interacting with paleontologists, paleoartists and other dinosaur enthusiasts like myself on social media is so much fun. I get to make connections with people doing amazing work and keep up with their projects.

ISMD: What do you do when you’re not volunteering with the ISMD?

Markie: Besides the normal stuff like reading, writing and playing Legend of Zelda, I also volunteer for The Planetary Society as well. I’m a volunteer coordinator for the DFW (Dallas / Fort Worth) area and run some events for them sometimes. I really love working with science oriented non-profits! Maybe in the future, if I’m lucky, I can turn this love into my full time job.

ISMD: Describe something related to paleontology that you’ve always wanted to do.

Markie: I’ve always adored dinosaurs since I was a kid. I think most people, even if they don’t grow up being paleontologists, have a favorite dinosaur at some point. Some of us just never let go of that and grow up to be total dinosaur nerds. I took paleontology in college and got to dig out at the Arlington Archosaur Site during the summer of 2008. It was love at first dig, but sadly I wasn’t able to finish and become a real paleontologist. So now I get to volunteer with the fantastic people at ISMD and support those doing good work out in the field by advocating science education.

ISMD: What’s your favorite Mongolian dinosaur?

Markie: Now that’s a ten million dollar question! It’s a hard choice between Protoceratops, Oviraptor and Velociraptor. All of them have profound scientific importance to the field of paleontology, but really it boils down to how adorable I think they are.

Congratulations Markie, and keep up the good work! By the way, the featured photo by Douglas Neman up top is of Markie and a Tyrannosaur at our Dallas March for Science table. The Saurolophus tees and stickers you see are currently available in our shop.

Welcome to Bulgan Sum

Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs director Thea Boodhoo is documenting our latest mission to lay early groundwork for a museum at the Flaming Cliffs. (You can help us cover some of the costs.)

Front entrance of the community cultural center in Bulgan Sum

When we finally arrived in Bulgan Sum it was late afternoon and the town center’s modest buildings cast long shadows across its snow-covered streets. Cows and dogs wandered past our cars as we unloaded our luggage. We would spend the night in the guest quarters of the Community Cultural Center, a two-story Soviet-era structure with a large hall, theater, and classrooms.

A small restaurant welcomed our party a block away, where everyone just barely fit at the single large table. The food was arranged elegantly and Walt commented that it was the best he’d had in Mongolia so far. Suutei tsai was served out of a giant thermos and everyone began to feel cozy again for the first time since leaving Dalanzadgad.

The restaurant in Bulgan Sum
The best food in the Gobi?

The drive from the biggest city in the Gobi to the main town of the sum of Bulgan is usually about two hours down a dirt road that follows the power lines. This time, it took us all day. We had to stop and shovel snow several times, making sure we stayed on the buried road. If it weren’t for the power lines, it would have been impossible to find the route.

Munkhsaikhan (left) is an ecologist who, until her recent promotion, was the area’s only ranger, gathering ecological data with the help of nomadic herders while running an organic farm and kids’ nature club. Tuvshinbayar (right) is a parliament member from Dalanzadgad.

But we made it. As we enjoyed rice with meat and hot tea, Munkhsaikhan, the ranger I’d met in September, joined us. I was happy to see her and happier to learn she’d been promoted and was expecting her third child.

We lamented running out of time for a workshop here, but Bolortsetseg decided to play our workshop DVD, “Dinosaurs Alive,” at the Cultural Center theater. Everyone was invited, and after some technical difficulties, the audience (mostly kids) got to see the full twenty-odd-minute chapter about the Flaming Cliffs, a world-famous fossil quarry that also happened to be their back yard.

A scene at the Flaming Cliffs from “Dinosaurs Alive” played at the Cultural Center in Bulgan Sum

Bulgan Sum was the first place the ISMD held workshops, in 2009, and the Movable Museum made it here in 2015 – the first and only time many here had seen a dinosaur museum. Both these efforts targeted children, so I was curious to see how adults here felt about dinosaurs. We also needed to know how locals felt about a museum at the Flaming Cliffs. We had a survey ready with questions on both topics, and the next morning, Binderiya stayed behind in the town to interview everyone she could. The results are fascinating, and I’ll share them with you in a future update.

The rest of us took our fate in our hands and attempted the drive to the Flaming Cliffs through the snow. Walt had to be on a plane the next day, so this was our last chance.

To be continued…

The Waiting Game

Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs director Thea Boodhoo is documenting our latest mission in the Gobi. (You can help us cover some of the costs.)

The sun is out. If the roads are back open today, we’re heading to Bulgan Soum (and the Flaming Cliffs tomorrow if all goes well) after I forget how many days in Dalanzadgad waiting for the snowstorm to pass.

This was before it got bad. There’s no pavement under there.

It’s been the biggest storm of its kind here in at least ten years, they’re saying. At one point, thirty-five people were missing in the area, and one still hasn’t been found. Many nomads were caught off guard and their livestock are now at risk, lacking access to food.

If we’d left a bit earlier for Bulgan Soum, we may have beat the storm, and we were kicking ourselves at first for that, but now we’re hearing that the homes we planned on staying in have become shelters for rescue personnel and that the Flaming Cliffs are completely inaccessible.

We’ve spent our time here in Dalanzadgad well, though. Planning and paperwork have made great progress and we’ve come up with tons of ideas for the museum together over endless khushuur and suutei tsai at the hotel restaurant.

We were even able to set up a dinosaur workshop at a school in town.

Will we make it to the Flaming Cliffs before we have to return to Ulaanbaatar to catch our flights home? It all depends on the weather and the road conditions.

If nothing else, at least we discovered a dinosaur while we were here.

Supersaurus marketrex.

A Day in Dalanzadgad

Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs director Thea Boodhoo is documenting our latest mission in the Gobi. (You can help us cover some of the costs.)

The drive to Dalanzadgad was uneventful except for a few irresistible photo opps.

I’m writing from the Gobi Sands Hotel tonight in Dalanzadgad, Umnugovi Aimag – the southernmost aimag (province) of Mongolia, where tourists visit in the summer to see the Flaming Cliffs and other natural wonders like the Hongor Sand Dunes and the Gurvan Saikhan Mountains. Collectively, the attractions of the Gobi are Mongolia’s most popular tourist destination.

Right now, however, it’s not summer, and there are no tourists.

The view from our room at the Gobi Sands Hotel this morning. Why yes that is snow.

Note: If you want to beat the Spring Break crowds, this is definitely the place to go.

Happily, precipitation of any kind is considered good luck in the Gobi. After a team breakfast of bread with jam, fried eggs, and bantan (a traditional meat and rice soup), we made our way to our meeting with several officials from the local Parliament.

Binderiya translated for Dan, Walt and I, and Bolortsetseg did most of the talking. I don’t want to go into too much detail on what was discussed yet, but it went well. There are a number of open questions but we all left feeling really good about this important first step toward a museum and research center at the Flaming Cliffs.

The local press was also in attendance, and wouldn’t let Bolortsetseg leave for lunch without an interview.

Walt, Binderiya and I also met with some professionals from the local construction industry to get a feel for the architecture requirements.  We’ll use what we learned to form some initial estimates.

Our final meeting of the day was an informal one with the local museum director, after which we were treated to a tour of Dalanzadgad’s two museums: a cultural museum (with a few dinosaur specimens) and the Camel Museum.

I have to say, if you are ever in Dalanzadgad, definitely find the Camel Museum. You will not be disappointed.

Tomorrow, hopefully we make it to the Flaming Cliffs despite a dust storm warning and more snow. Wish us luck.