Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in American Museum Novitates, No. 3616 (June 16, 2008). Copyright 2008 American Museum of Natural History. Used by permission.


The lithostratigrahy and sedimentology of the fossiliferous Upper Cretaceous strata exposed in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia at Ukhaa Tolgod are described and mapped on aerial photos. Topographic features are also mapped by plane table and alidade.

Five lithologic and sedimentologic facies are described: E-1, distinctly cross-stratified sandstone with fine structure, interpreted to represent eolian dune deposits; E-2, vaguely bedded sandstone with cross-stratified concretionary sheets, interpreted to represent eolian dune deposits modified by diagenetic formation of slope-parallel concretionary sheets of pedogenic calcite; S, structureless sandstone lacking concretions or cross-strata, interpreted to represent sandslide deposits generated by mass wasting along the lee slopes; C, conglomerate interpreted to represent basin-margin conglomerates washed into the dune field from adjacent topographic highs; and M, mudstone and siltstone interpreted to represent interdune deposition in ephemeral ponds and lakes. Facies E-2 and S have not been reported previously. Eleven stratigraphic sections at various localities within the Ukhaa Tolgod drainage basin are documented. The exposed composite section consists of about 75 m of pale orange sandstones, greenish-brown conglomerates, and brown siltstones that are products of an arid environment. Four schematic cross sections are documented to illustrate the lateral relationships among the five facies.

In the Ukhaa Tolgod area, the beds dip about 2.5u to the south, away from the nearby Gilbent Range. This structural attitude is interpreted to be related to the uplift of the Gilbent block along normal faults exposed at the base of the range.

The dune-derived sandslides of Facies S contain a rich skeletal fauna of Late Cretaceous dinosaurs, mammals, and lizards. Essentially, all the skeletal remains collected at Ukhaa Tolgod come from Facies S. Facies E-1 does contain numerous, concave-up depressions in the cross-strata interpreted as vertebrate tracks. Facies E-2 contains abundant cylindrical structures interpreted as burrows.

The strata at Ukhaa Tolgod are referred to the Djadokhta Formation. As seen in the Bayn Dzak Member at Bayn Dzak, facies E-1, E-2, S, and M dominate the lower part of the section at Ukhaa Tolgod, with prominent beds of Facies C exposed near the top. Accordingly, the exposures at Ukhaa Tolgod are referred to the Bayn Dzak Member of the Djadokhta Formation. Classic exposures of the Barun Goyot Formation at Khulsan differ in having units of flat-bedded sandstone intercalated with beds of Facies S near the top of the section.

To date, over 1,000 vertebrate skulls and skeletons have been collected from Facies S. Most are preserved as float contained in small calcareous nodules; however, some were found in situ. Many specimens represent either fairly complete skulls or skulls with articulated or associated postcranial skeletons. Based on faunal similarities between Bayn Dzak and Ukhaa Tolgod, the fauna at Ukhaa Tolgod is interpreted to reflect a Campanian age. The rich assemblage of fossils makes Ukhaa Tolgod one of the richest Late Cretaceous vertebrate fossil localities in the world, and the fossils provide unique insights into evolutionary developments of mammals, lizards, and dinosaurs, including birds, less than 10 my before the terminal Cretaceous extinction event.