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The downside of a good fortune

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By Kirsten Peters

The rates of China’s economic growth are often reported in a wide variety of sectors. But China is experiencing another bonanza, too. It doesn’t get the headlines commanded by economic figures, but it catches the attention of geologists and anyone with an interest in the history of life on Earth.
What’s at issue is the absolute tsunami of fossil specimens that are dug up in China and make their way around the world.
The main period for discovering important fossils in the U.S. is probably in the past. To be sure, there are dinosaur finds in Montana from time to time, and other fossils come to light on occasion around the nation. But simply because we’ve had scientific expeditions looking for fossils within our national boundaries for well over a century, the rate at which we discover significant fossils these days is rather small.
In contrast to the U.S., China didn’t have people looking for fossils within its borders until quite recently. Locked in poverty and separated for a time from much of the world through the Cold War, the Chinese had other issues to deal with besides trying to unravel the ancient history of life on the planet.


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