Page last updated at 17:44 GMT, Wednesday, 31 December 2008

China finds major dinosaur site

By Steve Jackson
BBC News

Velafrons coahuilensis
The new discoveries include a large hadrosaur, or "duck-billed" dinosaur

Scientists in China say they believe a group of dinosaur fossils discovered in the east of the country could be the largest collection ever found.

The researchers, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, say they have unearthed 7600 dinosaur bones since March in Shandong province.

Most of the bones date back to the late Cretaceous period which is around the time when dinosaurs became extinct.

The scientists hope the find will help to explain why the creatures died out.

"Dinosaur City"

Zhucheng in Shandong province is known locally as "dinosaur city" and has been the scene of several important finds since the 1960s.

However, the researchers say a new fossil field discovered during mining explorations earlier this year appears to be even more important.

The discoveries are expected to contribute to research on the mystery of dinosaur extinction
Prof Zhao Xijin,

Chinese Academy of Sciences

About 3000 dinosaur bones have been dug up from a single pit just a few hundred metres long and thousands of others have been unearthed at a number of sites nearby.

Professor Zhao Xijin, the palaeontologist in charge of the excavations, told Chinese state media: "This group of fossilised dinosaurs is currently the largest ever discovered in the world... in terms of area."

The full details of the findings have not yet been published. But they are reported to include tyrannosaurus and ankylosaurus bones, as well as what could be the largest duck-billed dinosaur ever excavated.

Extinction clues

Mr Zhao said the uncovering of so many remains in such a small area is significant.

Parrot-beaked dinosaur, co-discovered by Zhao Xijin, in 2001
Zhao Xijin is renowned for fossil finds, such as this parrot-beaked dinosaur

"The discoveries are expected to contribute to research on the mystery of dinosaur extinction", he said.

Detailed information on the fossil find is not expected to be published in scientific journals until later in 2009.

However, a leading palaeontologist, Dr Paul Barrett, of London's Natural History Museum, told BBC News that the claim this find is the "world's largest" is likely to be credible.

Excavations are currently suspended for the winter but will resume when the weather gets warmer. The scientists say they're expecting to find even more dinosaur remains.

The local authorities in Shandong are making plans to set up a fossil park in the area.

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