11-year-old Shanghai boy discovers unique fossil
In a remarkable find, 11-year-old Meng Xiangrui from Shanghai's Songjiang District stumbled upon a fossil of a marine reptile in the Ningzhen mountain range of Jiangsu Province.
In a selfless act, he donated the fossil to the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.
This astonishing discovery marks the first of its kind in China in nearly 160 years.
Its finder Meng is a fifth-grade student.
The boy's fascination with fossils seemed almost predestined. His passion for paleontology led him to read many books on the subject, but he had never tried his hand at fossil hunting.
One day, he learned online that fossils could possibly be found in the mountains of Jurong, Jiangsu. Intrigued, Meng along with his parents decided to try their luck during the May Day holiday.
Upon arriving in the mountains around noon, they spent half a day discovering only a few common ammonite fossils.
Unwilling to accept defeat, Meng returned the next day and, by chance, split open a rock to reveal a reddish-brown stone adorned with white markings.
"I came across a large rock and decided to crack it open," he recalled. "I noticed some unusual patterns inside but wasn't sure what it was.
"Even my parents couldn't identify it and thought it might be natural rock formations rather than a fossil, so we left it behind."
But his mother was struck by the uniqueness of the patterns and captured a photograph as a memento.
Back in Shanghai, Meng couldn't shake the thought of the stone and urged his mother to share the photo online.
They found an expert on the Internet, and to their astonishment, the expert suggested that it "appeared to be a marine reptile fossil."
They drove to Jurong immediately, and brought the stone back home overnight.
After multiple assessments, it was confirmed that it was indeed a marine reptile fossil, unique to the Ningzhen mountain range, with significant scientific value.
"At first, I was reluctant to part with the stone, but everyone said it was valuable, and only by letting professionals study it could its true value be unlocked," the boy said.
He made the decision to donate it to the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology.
In honor of this extraordinary discovery, the Nanjing Paleontological Museum hosted a science outreach event titled "Journey into the Dinosaur Age" and a donation ceremony for the first marine reptile fossil found in the Ningzhen mountain range.
"This discovery of a marine reptile fossil is what we call the 'beginner's luck' in our field," the mother said with a smile.
"Professional paleontologists often make observations before excavating, but the boy just sees a rock and starts hammering away."
Despite his young age, Meng has been a fossil enthusiast for several years.
He has amassed a collection of more than 200 fossils of various sizes, displayed in cabinets at home.
He enjoys drawing, with most of his artwork centered around paleontology.
"I don't like playing video game, I only like fossils," he said.
Since the third grade, he would often take a small hammer outside and practice splitting rocks.
"He started reading dinosaur books from kindergarten, and when he saw some rocks while playing outdoors, he could even call them by name, some of which I had never heard of," the mother said.
She had to look them up online, and found the son was always right.
"Entering higher grades, there's more academic pressure, and my husband was concerned that too much focus on fossils might affect his studies, but we couldn't bear to discourage his enthusiasm," she said.
Although neither of the parents works in the related field, they are supportive of their son.
When asked about his future aspirations, to become a paleontologist was Meng's unwavering reply.
"I love hunting for fossils," he said.