IVPP, Beijing

….. aaaaand to round off this incredible China trip of mine, I spent the last week working at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing. It is really exciting to be able to look at specimens that I’ve only read about in the literature… until now.


I must say a big thank you to Zhu Min and colleagues who welcomed me and so generously shared their specimens and work with me. In particular I have to thank Tuo Qiao for letting me look at her lovely lungfish, and for Jing Lu for letting me crash in her office all week and marvel over the amazing lobe-finned fish she works on.


Photo: Lunch at IVPP with Brian Choo, Yuzhi Hu, Han Hu, and Jing Lu.

A real highlight of every day was lunchtime, yum! What an amazing experience this China “palaeo pilgrimage” adventure has been, I look forward to coming back again soon. 

Field trip in Yunnan

Following on from the ISLEV meeting, I then spent four days travelling around Yunnan Provence in Southern China as part of an organised post-conference field trip. The idea behind these sorts of field trips are to allow foreign researchers to visit sites that they know from the literature, but that they might not get opportunity to do so otherwise.


Day 1 saw us check out some Silurian strata close to Qujing before heading north to visit Fuyuan County. We were treated to some breathtaking views after a climb at the source Pearl River,  and then later guided through an epic cave system of the karst landform in Fuyuan.


Day 2 saw us leap up through geological time into the Mesozoic “Age of Reptiles”. We spent the day visiting Luoping Biota National Geopark. This was a real treat for the absolutely spectacular preservation of the fossils, but also the views. I was most excited to see Luopingcoelacanthus, the oldest known evidence of embryos preserved inside a coelacanth!


On Day 3 we moved back in time to the Cambrian, the time period when the earth saw unprecedented numbers and diversity of complex early life. At Chengjiang Fauna National Geopark we saw the “oldest preserved animal community”; it included strange early animals such as the fearsome Anomolacaris (thought to be an early relative of arthropods) and the truly weird Hallucigenia (it is so weird, those describing it thought they may be hallucinating) . Again we visited a “Geopark” built to conserve and research the local fossil fauna. I think it would be great to see more of these parks in Australia to protect our own unique geological heritage.


For our final day we returned to my favourite time period, the Devonian “Age of Fishes”. We stopped at a few different sites in Wuding County and were not disappointed. The rocks were absolutely full of fabulous fish fossils! I think the find of the day was Martha’s giant Holonema specimen ( a type of arthrodire placoderm). What a way to end a marvellous field trip filled with fossils, scenery and great food. Thank you to our colleagues from IVPP, Beijing, for this unforgettable experience.

ISELV in China

What is ISELV?, I hear you ask. ISELV stands for the International Symposium of Early and Lower Vertebrates, which basically means “a meeting for fish nerds” (especially fossil fish from the Palaeozoic). The 15th episode of this meeting was held this month in China.

The first ISELV was held in 1967 in Stockholm and has been held on average every 4 (or fewer) years since then. I’ve been lucky enough to attend this wonderful meeting previously in 2015 (Melbourne, Australia) and 2017 (Chęciny, Poland).

This year the “fishy fossil” global community descended upon Yunnan Provence in southern China to spend a week at Qujing Normal University. The week was meticulously arranged by our colleagues from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthroplogy (IVPP) in Beijing.


We enjoyed four full days of fascinating talks, and were treated to a field day in the middle of the conference out at some of the local Silurian and Devonian sites yielding vertebrate remains around Qujing. First we visited the Xiaoxiang site close to Dongpo village. Several high profile discoveries in recent years have been excavated from this site, including so-called “maxillae” placoderms (Entelognathus, Qilinyu), and some of the earliest complete bony fishes (Guiyu, Megamastax, Sparalepis). In addition to our excitement about hammering out some fossils at these famous sites, we saw some spectacular countryside scenery too.


The second stop saw us visit the Xitun Fauna site which is younger than the Dongpo site, this time we were up in the Devonian “Age of Fishes”. This site has revealed some very important lobe-finned fishes, in particular Youngolepis and Diabolepis, which were found in the 1980s, and more recently forms such as Psarolepis, Achoania, Styloichthys and Meemannia.

I spoke on the third day on “New information on the pharynx of the Devonian tetrapodomorph fish, Gogonasus, revealed by synchrotron and neutron tomography.” I compared scans of a new specimen of a complete Gogonasus scanned using conventional micro CT, synchrotron and neutron scanning while also describing the anatomy of the gill arches of this fish. The arches appear to be somewhat reduced which could be an indication of increased reliance on air-breathing in this relative of the early tetrapods.

Alice and Jing in Qujing

Dr Lu Jing and Dr Alice Clement at ISELV 2019 in Qujing, China. 

Thanks to Min Zhu (chairman), Wen-jin Zhao (vice-chair) and the rest of the organising committee for putting on such a wonderful meeting! Also, I must acknowledge and give many thanks to eLife and Flinders University Impact Seed Funding which allowed me to travel to China and to attend this meeting.