Dinosaurs in the big city

Art November 23, 2015 01:00

By Phatarawadee Phataranawik

8,008 Viewed

Fossils unearthed around the country prove that Thailand was once teeming with giant lizards, but they avoided bangkok - until now

“DINOSAURS IN TOWN!” schoolboys shriek in delight while playing with a T Rex that’s strutting around in front of Siam Paragon. It’s far too cute to be terrifying, but more than ample for drawing attention to the exhibition of actual prehistory on view at the mall, starting inside a huge air-conditioned tent that dominates Parc Paragon.
“The Amazing Asian Dinosaur at Siam” show is a chance for Bangkok bone buffs to see what they’re missing in the far Northeast. There are three dozen genuine dinosaur fossils shared by the Sirindhorn Museum in Kalasin and the Phuwiang Fossil Research Centre and Dinosaur Museum in Khon Kaen, along with replica skeletons of the “terrible lizards” that have been found in Isaan, Laos and Japan.
Out front of the tent prowl Siamosaurus suteethorni, which is named for Thai paleontologist Varavudh Suteethorn, and Phuwiangosuarus sirindhornae, the former bearing Siam’s name and that of its bones’ discoverers, the latter the surname of Her Royal Highness Prince Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and the locale that was once its habitat.
“Thailand is the dinosaur hub of Southeast Asia,” says Naramase Teerarungsigul of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment’s Department of Mineral Resources. “Ever since we found the first 130-million-year-old fossil in Phuwiang National Park in 1976, Thailand has been uncovering various species. Most of the discoveries have taken place in Khon Khaen, Kalasin, Chaiyaphom and Nakhon Ratchasima, but in recent years we’ve found more in the North, in Chiang Muan in Phayao, and in the South, in Klongtom in Krabi.”
These discoveries are still going on, Naramase emphasises. Excavation is underway in Kalasin’s Kham Muang district, where a team from the department led by Dr Phonpen Janthasit has found more than 2,000 dinosaur bones along with the remains of prehistoric fish, turtles and crocodiles.
The department has mounted the 10-day exhibition to let more people know what a wealth of important dinosaur finds have turned up in Thailand. Some of the fossils brought to Bangkok haven’t even been shown to the public in the Northeast.
The main exhibition is inside the mall itself, on M Floor.
One zone, titled “Treasures of Siam”, recounts the history of Thai palaeontology over the last four decades. Eleven glass display cases contain 37 fossils unearthed since 1976. There is also a tribute in text and photos to Princess Sirindhorn, a keen enthusiast in the field, plus a mammoth replica of the skeleton of Phuwiangosaurus sirindhornae and a model and the actual teeth from a small, long-extinct mammal also named in her honour, Tarsius sirindhornae.
The faux Phuwiangosaurus skeleton is the department’s birthday gift to the Princess, to be formally presented to her next Saturday. The skeleton on which it was modelled was found in 1999 at Ban Na Krai in Kalasin’s Kuchinarai district – 160 bones that, once assembled, reared up nearly 11 metres in height. The Princess will also receive a 1:27-scale model of the creature.
The bones, first spotted by local residents who realised they’d found something unusual, were dug from the red siltstone of what geologists call the Sao Krua Formation. During the Mesozoic era there were only two seasons – rainy and dry – and siltstone accrued in the floodplains of slow-flowing rivers.
The epoch, running 220 million to 100 million years ago, remained dry enough to preserve the fossils well. So today we have pretty accurate ideas of what this giant looked like, as well as a sauropod unearthed at Phu Kum Khao and a Spinosaurus, which are also on display, along with the teeth of various dinosaurs.
“The continuing discoveries have proved that Thailand was once an important dinosaur habitat,” Naramase says, adding that Malaysian palaeontologists are always keen to work here. 
Orn-uma Summart, a Sirindhorn Museum geologist, points out a case showing fossils from a theropod unearthed in Phu Noi, Kalasin. “We found this upper jaw with some teeth in good condition in 2007. It might be more than 130 million years old.”
Inevitably drawing a great deal of attention, a new species of tyrannosaur was found at Phuwiang and subsequently named Siamotyrannus isanenis (after Isaan). It remains the subject of further research involving scientists in Sichuan, China, which is another rich hunting ground for fossils.
Inside the tent in front of the mall are the roars of the beasts and the thud of their footsteps, adding to the thrills for the younger visitors. People are having their photos taken with 3D dinosaurs, digging up their own fossil replicas hidden in sand and finding out just how sharp the beasts’ teeth can be.
Just outside the tent is the Paleo Pond, with a waterfall and models of fish-eating dinosaurs and ancient crocodiles also found in Thailand, some of them previously unknown species.
Another zone, “Jurassic Wonders”, reconstructs the prehistoric world with a dozen more dinosaur species, as well as plants and other animals.
And “Revival of Ancient Times” has more skeleton replicas, dinosaur eggs and footprints. The 150-metre-tall skeleton of the vegetarian sauropod Tangvayosaurus hoffeti comes from Savannaket, just across the Thai-Lao border from Mukdahan. Japan has shared a theropod, Fukuiraptor kitadaniensis, and a iguanodontid, Fukuisaurus tetroriensis.
Also surveying the dining possibilities in Bangkok are Kinnareemimus khonkaenensis, an “ostrich dinosaur”, dug up in Khon Kaen in 1982, 130 million years old; Isanosaurus attavipatchi, the earliest known sauropod at 200 million years old, found in Chaiyaphum in 1998; and Ratchasimasaurus suranareae, a “new” species of iguanodontid, 110 million years old, found in Nakhon Ratchsima in 2011.
- “The Amazing Asian Dinosaur at Siam” is open from 10am to 10pm daily until Sunday at Siam Paragon. Admission is free.
- The text in the exhibition booklet is in Thai and English, but the display captions are in Thai only. Find out more at (02) 610 8000.