It's hard even to fathom what it was like when dinosaurs were the chief inhabitants of the world. Fossils, of course, bring us a connection to these times, and they provide scientists with a way to theorize about what the world was like. If you nerd out about fossils and dinosaurs like we do, read on to learn about the three places where the most dinosaur bones have been found.
While humans find dinosaur bones all over the world, there certainly are hotspots where a higher density of these ancient treasures reside. North America is one of them. The different kinds of fossils are as numerous as you can imagine. But here are some examples of fossils in North America and where you can go to see them for yourself.
The Precambrian Period is the first period we recognize, and there are plenty of Precambrian fossils in North America, according to the Smithsonian. This era of Earth's history involved a lot of microorganisms, algae, and soft-bodied species such as worms and jellyfish. A great place to see Precambrian fossils in the U.S. is at the Grand Canyon. There you can see algae fossils that are over one billion years old. Glacier National Park in Montana also has fossilized evidence of cyanobacteria dating back 1.5 billion years, as well as stromatolites.
Ancient multi-celled organisms are cool, but you might be wondering where you can see some actual dinosaur bones. Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas is a great place to see fish-like fossils and the predecessors to snails from the Permian Period. From the age of mammals — the Cenozoic period — you can spot ancient crocodiles and an animal similar to our modern-day hyenas at the John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon. And the Florissant Fossil Beds in Colorado have one of the most diverse displays in all the world. There, you can find a prehistoric rhinoceros and the first-ever discovered fossilized butterfly.
The vast collection of fossils found in Argentina is one of the country's claims to fame. One example is Saltasaurus Loricatus, a small sauropod from the Late Cretaceous Period. This discovery, made in 1980, was a big deal in the world of paleontology because it was the first evidence of hard bone plates on the back. These plates operated like an armor of sorts. This dinosaur was an herbivore that was about 12 meters long. Scientists propose it could stand on its hind legs to eat leaves higher up in the trees.
Other treasures from Argentina include the fossils of Noasaurus Leali. This dinosaur looked like a small velociraptor similar to the ones found in North American and China, although it's an entirely different species. It had sharp talons and teeth — which are definitely the characteristics of a carnivore. A rancher discovered these bones in San Juan in 1958, in what is now known as the Ischigualasto Formation.
For those wanting to travel to Argentina and see fossils for themselves, the Ischigualasto Formation is a great place to start. It's now a regional park, and visitors can see the fossils still in the ground. Argentinians have also done a great job of providing fossil experiences in a museum setting that still feels authentic. One example is the Ernesto Bachmann Dinosaur Museum in El Chocón. This museum has replicas of fossils as they were found in the ground. They also have tools used by paleontologists on display so visitors can see what archaeological digs are like. There are other museums and parks in Argentina, as well, that educate visitors about the impressive fossils found in this country.
China is a massive country, and there have been fantastic fossil finds throughout the land. One of these places is the Qingjiang River, where paleontologists have found evidence of 101 different species along the river banks, and over half of those were new to science. The site was first discovered in 2007, but paleontologists have been busy exploring it ever since. They've found species as old as the first animals in the Cambrian Period. Chinese paleontologists and scientists around the globe are hoping Qingjiang will become a UNESCO World Heritage Site to protect these incredible findings.
A fossil hotspot in China that is already a UNESCO World Heritage Site is the Chengjiang Fossil Site. Chengjiang is located in the Yunnan Province and also has a vast collection of Cambrian Fossils. While there were many mining operations near the site, they've been shut down. The sites are starting to be rehabilitated so that further fossil records don't get destroyed.
The Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region is another place in China rich with fossils. It's even known as "Dinosaur Town," and it has an abundance of Ankylosaurus and Ceratopsian fossils. Something unique about these fossils is that there's evidence of all ages of creatures, from newborns to mature adults. Scientists in China are constantly discovering new fossil areas that are in urgent need of excavation.