Discover China: A Small County's Bond With Dinosaurs

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Heilongjiang Provincial Museum. Courtesy of

From building walls and green belts to roadside dustbins, dinosaur images can be found virtually everywhere in Jiayin, a small county in northeast China.

The county with a population of around 80,000 in Heilongjiang Province, is dubbed the "hometown of dinosaurs" as China's first dinosaur fossil was discovered there in 1902. Dinosaurs have become its symbol, attracting dino fans from around the globe.

In the Shenzhou Dinosaur Museum in Jiayin, some tourists are gazing at giant herbivorous dinosaurs, while others are riding stationary bikes that can control the speed of computer-animated dinosaurs on a screen.

"The small county deserves its reputation. I felt like I was in a world of dinosaurs," said tourist Wu Jinqiang from the city of Mudanjiang.

Cleaning, reinforcing and adding protective coatings are among the daily jobs of Shen Fengbin, a fossil restoration researcher of the museum.

Covering an area of more than 4,600 square meters, the museum displays over 800 pieces of dinosaur fossils, attracting more than 70,000 tourists each year.

"I was quite confused and frustrated when I started working in the museum in 2005 because I didn't have a professional background on dinosaurs," Shen said.

Over the years, he voluntarily participated in fossil excavations, collected a large number of reports on dinosaur fossils and read many books. In 2016, he successfully found a well-preserved dinosaur skeleton.

"That day was full of excitement and I will never forget it as long as I live," Shen said.

Since 1990, Heilongjiang Province has organized several massive archaeological excavations in Jiayin. So far, the skeletons found in the county have been assembled into 10 dinosaurs.

Jiayin's bond with dinosaurs can be traced back to the early 1900s. Local fishermen often found large chunks of fossilized bones on the river banks during flood season.

However, the objects' true identity remained a mystery until giant duck-billed dinosaur skeletons were excavated in a local mountain in 1902.

In 1977, a team of geologists found a number of fossils in an unknown mountain. They collected dozens of boxes of skeletons and sent them to Beijing. Archaeologists confirmed that the fossils belonged to duck-billed dinosaurs.

A joint excavation was launched in the mountain in 1978 and 1979, discovering more than 1,400 pieces of dinosaur fossils. Since then, the spot has been known as "Dinosaur Mountain."

Today the mountain has been transformed into a popular tourist destination -- Jiayin Dinosaur National Geopark. Hundreds of dinosaur skeletons are believed to be buried underground.

In the geopark, a brachiosaurus takes a walk on the grassland, a tyrannosaurus gives a terrifying howl, and dinosaur eggs are scattered everywhere on the ground... vivid sculptures transport tourists back to the age of the dinosaurs.

"Orlov, a former Soviet Union paleontologist," Jiang Zengyu, a pupil from the provincial capital Harbin, read the introduction on the sign in front of a sculpture in the park.

"My son is a dino lover. I heard there was a dinosaur park in Jiayin, so I took him to learn something," his mother said.

In August, an international forum on fossil protection was held in Jiayin, attracting over 180 paleontologists.

The paleontologists from more than 10 countries including Russia, Japan and France exchanged views on fossil protection, tourism featuring geological cultures, the study of the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary and other issues.

"Jiayin is regarded as a key dinosaur fossil site of the Cretaceous Period in Northeast Asia, contributing a great deal to geological research of China and the world," said Liu Fujun, Party chief of the county.

In Jiayin, Shen has realized his dino dream. "I hope more tourists will come to Jiayin and relish the unique charm of this world of paleontology," he said.