The Fate of the Rash Platybelodon

A Prehistoric Death Trap Yields Its Victims to the Explorer


A shovel-tusked mastodon jaw ready for shipment—This excellent five and one-half foot specimen has been covered with burlap strips soaked in flour paste. Such careful preparation is essential in order to protect the easily broken fossil

The summer’s work indicated that this entire region was so rich and important that several years of additional work were highly desirable. Upon cabled instructions from President Osborn, I went to Peking on 1st of September to open negotiations with the Committee for the Preservation of Ancient Objects. Mackenzie Young and I with one Chinese, Liu Shi-ku, drove down in two cars. During the summer the region had been remarkably clear of bandits, but it had been rumored that great quantities of opium were to be brought in from the west. This rich cargo had drawn bandits like flies to honey. A hundred and twenty miles from Kalgan the brother of one of our Mongols, Bato, told us that two Chinese cars had been robbed the night before and two men killed by thirty or forty brigands. He supposed that they were still there awaiting other victims and advised us not to go on. Mack and I, however, were heavily armed and decided to go through. Either the bandits had left or they were reluctant to attack us, because we reached Kalgan without a shot being fired. A week later, Mack returned accompanied by only Liu who drove the second car. Before he left Peking I had a strong presentiment that he would have trouble. It had been raining hard and the trail was very slippery. A hundred and ten miles from Kalgan a Mongol child ran out to the trail and told them that bandits had just stopped a caravan five miles away. Mack had either to turn back to Kalgan or else proceed and take his chance. He decided to go on. At a tiny mud-walled house in the bottom of the valley, he saw the brigands dressed in Chinese soldier uniforms robbing a caravan of carts. He drove on as fast as possible, but when his car was opposite the house, the robbers opened fire with Luger pistols from behind a mud wall. Slowing up a little, Mack took a snap shot at one man who was doing the best shooting. His bullet struck a stone, went to pieces, and took off part of the bandit’s face. Another struck a second man in the shoulder. A little farther were a dozen robbers standing by their horses. They opened fire with rifles as Mack went by and then started to mount their ponies. He killed a horse and this so discouraged the brigands that they galloped away. It had been a neat little fight and the bandits had been taught a pretty severe lesson. Fortunately, neither Mack nor Liu were hit.

The whole Expedition returned a month later. Two days after they had reached Kalgan the entire region was taken over by bandits and all traffic on the plateau ceased. Had our people been delayed, the consequences would have been serious. It was only another evidence of the good luck which has been a constant factor in the success if the Central Asiatic Expeditions. The camels carrying our collections were met at a village thirty-four miles from Kalgan by Young and Liu and the fossils brought safely to Peking. I cannot speak too highly of the courage and loyalty of every man, native and foreign, of the Expedition’s staff. Through their splendid efforts the season’s work netted the largest collection of any year in Mongolia. Ninety-one cases of fossils were obtained. We all feel that in scientific importance, as well as in bulk, this year’s collections from eastern Mongolia will equal if not surpass those of any previous season. During all of the past years of our exploration, we have worked in central and western Mongolia where late Tertiary strata appear not to exist. Although we have opened a new volume in the history of the earth, the proper conditions under which human remains could be found were only discovered last year. It would be a scientific tragedy if lack of sympathy in China forces us to terminate our work.

view counter
view counter

Recent Stories

The way they live, the food they eat, and the effect on us

A true but unlikely tale

Story and Photographs by William Rowan

Increasing day length on the early Earth boosted oxygen released by photosynthetic cyanobacteria.

Genomic evidence shows that Denisovans and modern humans may have overlapped in Wallacea.