Prehistoric Animals


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Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology – IVPP

It was in 1929 that a scientist, Pei Wen-Zhong, discovered the fossilized skull of a prehistoric man in the Zoukoudian cave near Beijing. This specimen would become known worldwide as the "Peking Man", prompting the Chinese authorities to take an interest in paleontology. The Cenozoic research laboratory of the geological institute then went in search of fossilized vertebrates, and it was not until 1957 that an independent institution was created: the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology. In 1960, its name was changed to the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) and its field of action expanded to address human evolution. The first director of IVPP, Prof. Yang Zhongjian (1897-1979) became known in the West as Professor C. C. Young. In the 1950s, he undertook research in Shandong Province, rich in Cretaceous dinosaurs, and discovered the remains of an unusual hadrosaur, the Tsintaosaurus, and several skeletons of psittacosaurids. In 1957, Young also studied the almost complete skeleton of the Mamenchisaurus, a giant sauropod discovered in Sichuan. Between 1963 and 1966, Dr. Dong Zhiming, now a professor, began to study the Jungaar and Turpan basins in northern China. He discovered a fauna that included several dinosaurs: Monolophosaurus, Tienshanosaurus, Bellusaurus, Psittacosaurus, Wuerhosaurus, Jaxartosaurus and Kelmayisaurus. During the 1970s and 1980s, IVPP teams made many important discoveries about dinosaurs, often working with local provincial authorities. Pr Dong probably found more dinosaurs than any other paleontologist of the twentieth century. His most important discovery was certainly the Dashanpu Dinosaur Quarry near Zigong, Sichuan Province. Today, a superb museum stands near the site. We can see most of the important specimens discovered on the spot, but also the evolution of the excavations. The number of fossilized bones presented amounts to 8,000, including several complete dinosaur skeletons. In the late 1980s, joint expeditions between IVPP and the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Canada explored northern China and central Mongolia, and discovered a large number of new dinosaurs and other vertebrates. Most of these specimens, such as the theropod Sinraptor, are now part of the IVPP collection.

IVPP conducts research in all aspects of paleontology and palaeoanthropology and manages a large collection of fossils. Each year, its expeditions crisscross the four corners of China in search of new discoveries. IVPP is divided into three departments: paleoichthyology and paleoherpetology (fish, amphibians), paleomammalogy (fossilized mammals) and paleoanthropology (human fossils). In the early 1990s, IVPP employed 230 full-time staff. It presents its research through three scientific journals but also in major international scientific journals. It has about 200,000 vertebrate fossils, including almost all the dinosaurs found in China. In 1993, the museum moved into a large modern building with three galleries open to the public. In recent years, IVPP teams have discovered in Liaoning, northern China, incredible feathered dinosaur fossils and early Cretaceous birds.

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