Blog WHS Visits

WHS #693: Chengjiang Fossil Site

The Chengjiang Fossil Site comprises preserved fossils of sea creatures that lived in a shallow sea some 530 million years ago. Although it was a shoo-in at the 2012 WHC and IUCN regarded it “an emblematic site for the record of life in the Cambrian period”, it has the questionable honour to be among the 10 lowest rated WHS on this website. Unfortunately I could not raise that score. I visited it right after Zuojiang Huashan, which meant two disappointing WHS in a row with a lot of hard travelling in between. It makes one sometimes wonder what the point is of ticking off these kind of sites.

Sea creature replica

I visited Chengjiang from Kunming. Although the distance is only about 60km, from door to door it took me 3 hours by metro, bus and taxi. And the same amount of time back of course, which turns even the quickest visit into almost a full day trip. The local taxi driver at Chengjiang bus station knew exactly where to go when I uttered ‘Maotianshan’. He offered to wait as well, obviously knowing that people do not spend lots of time there. The return trip cost me 180 yuan.

It’s a pleasant drive out into the countryside and into the hills. After some 20 minutes you arrive at the gate of the Geopark. Here the driver had to enter his car details to a list (and probably his personal info as well, as ID’s are checked in China all day anywhere). Somewhat further uphill lies the impressive gateway to the fossil site. There even is a parking lot and there are public toilets and a souvenir shop. The people here are obviously ready to receive the high numbers of visitors that come with a WH designation!

Fossil of an arthopod

From the parking it’s an uphill walk to the area where the first fossils where discovered; it was only as recently as 1984. There is a ticket office as well so they may ask for an entry fee, but it was unmanned when I passed by. Along the way there are information panels in Chinese and English about the creatures that lived in this sea.

The first building you come across is the one that holds the 'first dig site'. It’s an odd semi-circular construction built around a bare cliff. The cliff is just what it is, nothing shows the impact of what was discovered here. In this area you walk on a glass floor and below your feet there seem to be many fossils just laying around. After having a closer look at them I believe they are fakes (too white, like gypsum). They do have a few exhibition panels though with real fossils found at the site. They were all tiny animals, much in contrast with the plastic displays also present in the building of how the ancient sea creatures looked like. Apparently some animals could grow to 2m in length, I wonder if they’ve found complete fossils of these too.

After this building the path continues uphill to another one, the pretty construction that features in many photos of the site. It is/was the research institute. I found it locked and believe it may not be in use anymore.

The originally shaped building of the research institute

Before leaving, my taxi driver suggested to take a look inside the souvenir shop as well. It is remarkably well-stocked with books about the Chengjiang fossils. And to my surprise I found that they also sell small fossils found in the area. I was tempted to buy one (a real piece of a WHS in my house!), but somehow it did not feel right. Back in Chengjiang town I directly took the bus back to Kunming. There apparently is a fossil museum in Chengjiang but I did not see it right away and did not have the stamina anymore to go and look for it.

Els - 12 January 2019

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