It was a clear spring day in 2004 when i visited the Old Goods market in Beijing just before my flight home, and i was on the hunt for fossils. A local old lady vendor brought me to a corner and unwrapped a newspaper, revealing the first baby Psittacosaur i ever laid my eyes on. Despite the disassembly of the specimen, its tiny hands, skull, and vertebrae were exquisite, and i was in love. Unfortunately, I also did not have the (only!) SGD300 in cash that she was looking for.
Since that day, I’ve always been on the lookout for fossils of these early ceratopsians from a 130 – 100 million years ago. Linked to Triceratops and Protoceratops, their parrot beaks are as adorable but studies have shown that they were likely bipedal. Psittacosaurus are reasonably widespread from Northern and Central Asia – all the way down to even Thailand – leading to their use as index fossils.
Over time, I found that a world authority specialising in preparing psittacosaurid was Triassica. Mike Holmes has worked on hundreds of specimens, and i was fortunate to finally secure this specimen as my first complete fossil dinosaur skeleton. This Cretaceous beauty was originally from the Jiufotang Formation in Liaoning Province, China.
I asked Mike about the provenance of this specimen, especially with regards to China’s restrictions on exports of vertebrae fossils. He assured me that none of their fossils are sourced directly from China, but from existing supplies in the US and UK from before the ban. He says that prior to the ban, Chinese museums frequently sold off fossils which they had duplicates of (and thus not of scientific importance) to make way for more material, and interpreting export restrictions was up to provincial governments to interpret. Psittacosaurs were abundant and well-studied and thus not considered to be of scientific importance.