Establishing a Swiss-Kazakh collaboration for teaching and research studies on the Cenozoic paleoclimatic and paleoenvironmental record of Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan, being among the largest countries in the world, occupies a wide territory from Eastern Europe to China. The rich geological history and unique (paleo)geographic location of Kazakhstan provide an outstanding opportunity for investigating different aspects of Earth history, including climate evolution, desertification of Eurasia, history and development of vertebrate faunas. The main geological and paleontological studies have been done in the second half of the 20th century. Following the independence of Kazakhstan in 1991, international collaborations started to develop. Despite the rich fossil fauna and well-exposed Cenozoic continental records, previous paleontological studies unearthed only a small part of the country’s potential in terms of vertebrate paleontology as well as paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic studies.

The present project aims at launching a collaboration between JURASSICA Museum (Porrentruy, Switzerland) and Nazarbayev University (Astana, Kazakhstan), which will use the potential of both newly established institutions as a basis for a long-term cooperation in the fields of vertebrate paleontology, paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic studies, as well as for developing a teaching of excellence in paleontology at Nazarbayev University.

The staff of JURASSICA includes researchers in the field of Cenozoic continental vertebrates (fishes, amphibians, reptiles, small and large mammals), which are also lecturers at University of Fribourg in paleontology and geology. Being a newly established educational institution, Nazarbayev University, in particular the School of Mining and Geosciences, is seeking international collaborations to support newly established undergraduate programs, and, in that respect, could profit from the teaching experience of the staff of JURASSICA. The team of paleontologists from JURASSICA would contribute to establish a reference teaching collection of paleontology at Nazarbayev University, as well as to train students for collecting fossil material in the field.

Within the present project, we define two objectives which include the collection of:

  1. robust preliminary data (field trips exploring area using literature data and/or geological maps and collecting geological samples) for future project application at the SNF,
  2. fossils of different groups of plants and animals from different geological epochs for building a teaching collection for the School of Mining and Geosciences at Nazarbaev University.

The envisioned field trips are planned in two areas – the Zaisan Basin, Eastern Kazakhstan, and the Mangyshlak area, Western Kazakhstan. These areas contain the most complete Cenozoic successions with continental and transitional continental – marine deposits. The well-exposed sections, representing different depositional settings, are the key locations for collecting fossil material of different vertebrate groups.

Besides the Cenozoic deposits, these areas also contain Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks, which will also be considered for the teaching paleontological collection at Nazarbayev University. Finally, we also plan to collect some test samples for paleomagnetic investigations in order to check their applicability for building a robust age model.

We plan to build two groups for the field work: the first group of 3 persons DV, LR, OM (Olivier Maridet - JURASSICA stuff), the second group including 3 undergraduate students. The students will be guided in the field and trained for collecting and preparing the fossil material, and organize its transport to the final destination.


Dr. Davit Vassilyan, Jurassica Museum, Porrentruy, Switzerland

Ass. Prof. Laurent Richard, Nazarbayev University