Out with the old, in with the…even older. A museum in Mongolian capital Ulan Bator that was once dedicated to dictator Vladimir I. Lenin will soon be transformed into a center for prehistoric fossils, The Guardian reports.
The building that will house the new center was the home of The Lenin Museum from 1980, when Mongolia was still closely aligned with the Soviet Union, to 1990, when a peaceful revolution transformed the country into a multi-party democracy. Since then, the building has housed politicians’ offices—though a bust of Lenin has remained.
The new fossil museum is meant to attract tourists and to raise awareness of Mongolia’s rich (pre-)history. The smuggling of Mongolian fossils has been a problem in the past:
“Mongolia has been sending dinosaur exhibits abroad for 20 years, while not having a museum at home,” said Oyungerel Tsedevdamba, the minister for culture, sports and tourism. “We have a wonderful dinosaur heritage but people are not aware of it.”
She said that fossils lent to overseas institutions, and specimens smuggled abroad illegally, would fill several facilities if they were all brought home.
In fact, the jewel of the exhibit will most likely be the nearly-complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus bataar, also known as Tarbosaurus bataar, that is 7 meters long. (This is the same Tarbosaurus that was the subject of an international dispute last year, when it suddenly appeared at auction in the U.S. after apparently being imported illegally.)
Bolortsetseg Minjin, founder of the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs, was quoted in the Guardian as saying that the preservation of fossils in Mongolia is “very unique” because paleontologists have been able to “find complete skeletons in the Gobi desert, which is very rare.”
In a previous profile for National Geographic, Minjin explained further:
“In other parts of the world,” she notes, “you discover isolated bones that have been scattered—carried off by animals, damaged by exposure to harsh weather, swept away in rivers. Here in the Gobi, many dinosaurs must have died instantly, in a very unique way.”
Paleontologists believe that Mongolia’s high sand dunes may have been collapsed by one or more sudden monsoons, trapping dinosaurs in the valleys between the dunes. Buried below that land, now known as the Gobi desert, the fossils remained preserved and untouched for tens of millions of years.
Minjin now works on outreach programs to help get Mongolian students exposed to and educated about their country’s rich heritage—an effort that will perhaps be helped along by this new fossil center in Ulan Bator. As she asked National Geographic, “Shouldn’t the people who were born in this place help discover its own amazing past?”
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