Mongolia turns to its dinosaurs in an attempt to attract more tourists

A Saurolophus dinosaur fossil displayed at the Hunnu Shopping Mall in Ulaanbaatar. Photo by the author. Used with permission.

On July 29 and 30, Mongolia will host its first ever Dinosaur Festival, which the organizers plan to turn into a regular annual event to attract tourists. The event will take place at the Bayanzag archeological site located in the southern Omnogovi province in the Gobi Desert. The Mongolian Institute of Paleontology, which is organizing the festival, promises a program that consists of an exhibition of artifacts, a laser show, a holographic presentation, and a special tour with dinosaur fossil hunters.

Here is a YouTube video about the upcoming Dinosaur Festival in Mongolia.

The date and location of the event have been carefully picked as they carry an enormous importance for the world paleontological community. Exactly 100 years ago the director of the American Museum of Natural History, Roy Chapman Andrews, discovered dinosaur eggs for the first time at the Bayanzag site, which he called the Flaming Cliffs. The discovery was groundbreaking at the time as it proved that dinosaurs laid eggs, just as birds do today, and birthed a theory that birds are descendants of dinosaurs.

Here is a YouTube video of Roy Chapman Andrews and his team searching for fossils in southern Mongolia in the early 1920s.

A lot more was to come in the next few years, turning Mongolia into one of the most important countries for the study of dinosaurs and ancient history. In just two years, Andrews and his team discovered more than 100 dinosaurs and took them to the United States to display at the museum. These discoveries turned Andrews into a legend in the scientific community, so much so that he served as the inspiration for Indiana Jones, a fictional archeologist and adventurer. The political turmoil taking place in Mongolia in the early 1920s did not allow Andrews to return for more expeditions.

However, his discoveries had already put Mongolia on the world paleontological map as a premiere destination. The Soviet-Mongolian expeditions in the 1940s and the Polish-Mongolian expeditions in the 1960s and 1970s lead to numerous discoveries of dinosaur species, many of which were previously unknown to mankind.

Out of 400 species of dinosaurs discovered so far, 80 came from southern Mongolia, where they lived in the Cretaceous period of the Mesozoic era. For example, the velociraptor, which appeared in the Jurassic Park movies, oviraptor, and protoceratops were first found in the Mongolian part of the Gobi desert. One of the most famous dinosaur fossils, the Fighting Dinosaurs, which shows a fight between a velociraptor and protoceratops, was found in 1971 by Polish and Mongolian paleontologists.

Here is a tweet with the image of the Fighting Dinosaurs fossil.

The most famous dinosaur discovered in Mongolia is the 70-million year old Tarbosaurus baatar (T-baatar), considered to be the Asian cousin of the North American apex predator Tyrannosaurus rex. It is the main exponaut at the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs located in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar.

The story of the T-baatar reveals the biggest challenge faced by the Mongolian paleontological community: the smuggling of dinosaur fossils. It was returned to Mongolia in 2013, after being nearly sold at an auction in New York in 2012. In 2016, more than 30 fossils were recovered from US auctions, and they now adorn the halls of the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs. One of the smuggled and later recovered Mongolian dinosaurs was reportedly bought by a Hollywood actor Nicholas Cage.

The Tarbosaurus baatar displayed at the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs in Ulaanbatar. Photo by the author. Used with permission.

The spearheading figure behind the recovery operations is the Mongolian paleontologist Bolortsetseg Minjin. She is the founder and president of the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs, whose mission is to conserve the country’s fossil heritage and educate the next generation of Mongolian paleontologists. It is thanks to people like her that Mongolia is claiming its dinosaur heritage as part of its national identity by popularizing paleontology across the country. As Mongolia announced 2023 and 2024 as tourism years, it is turning to its dinosaurs in search of attractions for foreign tourists. And Mongolian dinosaurs might do the trick.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.