Thursday, December 8, 2016

“The [amber] mines are extremely dangerous, so foreigners can hardly get there.”

Finding a feathered dinosaur tail trapped in amber:

So, where does the paleontological reconnaissance come in? Burmese amber markets happen to be fed by amber mines in Hukawng Valley, located in the Kachin State of northern Myanmar. This region is currently under the control of the insurgent Kachin Independence Army, which has a long history of conflict with the Burmese government.

“Resellers buy scraps from amber miners and sell them on the markets,” Xing explained. “The mines are extremely dangerous, so foreigners can hardly get there.”

Xing decided to go undercover. “I disguised myself as a Burmese man with a face painted with Thanaka,” he told me. (Thanaka is a popular cosmetic paste in Myanmar, yellowish-white in color, made from finely ground tree bark.)

Stealthily camouflaged and armed with a fake ID, Xing snuck into the region. He met the prospector responsible for excavating the dinosaur tail, who guided Xing through the mines and showed him new geological samples. “We are very lucky,” he said of the escapade.