Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Lessons from the Chinese Palaeontology Boom

By John Long

Lack of funding and technical support ensures that many significant Australian fossil specimens will continue to gather dust.

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Recently I visited the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing, China, the world’s single largest institution for the study of ancient vertebrate fossils. Housing some 500 employees, including around 60 scientists with PhD degrees, the only larger institution worldwide for palaeontological research is the one set up for the study of fossil invertebrates and plants in southern China, the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, which I’m told is about 20% larger than IVPP.

Working at the IVPP is a dream for any visiting researcher, not only because of the breathtaking specimens of Chinese fossils they house – feathered dinosaurs, the oldest complete mammals and birds, superb ancient fishes and many other things – but also because of the high level of technical support their scientists are given to do their research.

In Australia we fight hard just to get an ARC grant, and rarely ever get the full amount needed to do the follow-up work, such as the time-consuming preparation of fossils, registering of fossils into museum collections, or use of professional artists and photographers. Most of us, myself included, still do about 80% of these jobs ourselves, taking up valuable time and funds that could be delegated to specially skilled technicians.

In most Australian museums, even the largest institutions, the...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.