Of the many staggering statistics that depict China’s incredible building boom, perhaps the most striking came last month courtesy of Bill Gates. He tweeted a graphic that showed how much cement China has recently run through in its drive to cover a massive country in concrete. In the past three years, he said, it has used more cement than the United States has in the past 100 years.

“This might be the most mind-blowing fact I learned this year,” he said. This blitz has resulted in the loss of innumerable ancient treasures. But the boom, it turns out, has also yielded some as well.

In 2006, that’s exactly what happened when a construction team working in Qijiang District in central China spotted what a new paper published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology called some “elusive vertebrate fossils.” So the local municipality commissioned a wide survey of the area and uncovered an even more remarkable find: a freakishly long-necked “dragon” dinosaur.


They called it Qijanglong, which means “dragon of Qijiang.” The size of the beast, which extended 45 feet in length and lived around 160 million years ago, got scientists wondering. “China is home to the ancient myths of dragons,” Tetsuto Miyashita, one of the authors on the study, said in a statement. “I wonder if the ancient Chinese stumbled upon a skeleton of a long-necked dinosaur like Qijanglong and pictured that mythical creature.”

Even more mythical was the fact that the dragon’s head was still attached to its bones — strange for a sauropod. “It is rare to find a head and neck of a long-necked dinosaur together because the head is so small and easily detached after the animal dies,” Miyashita said.

The beast turned out to be a new dinosaur species that, in a competition of long necks, has one of the longest. More than half of its body was just neck. It “is a cool animal,” Miyashita said. “If you imagine a big animal that is half the neck, you can see that evolution can do quite extraordinary things.”

The surprising thing about the neck was that, despite its size, it was relatively light. Like a bird, its vertebrae were filled with air. And its mechanics weren’t all that dissimilar to a construction crane — it could go up and down with relative ease, but side to side was another matter.

The discovery notched an important evolutionary chapter in the history of sauropods, scientists said, for it shows the sweeping diversification among those beasts in Asia that didn’t happen elsewhere. “Something very special was going on in that continent,” Miyashit said. “Nowhere else can we find dinosaurs with longer necks than those in China.”

And this had just about the longest one of them all.