Lack of internet access in the field and available time the last week delayed the blog updates. I am not sure if this entry really counts as a "field blog" update, as I am sitting in a nice comfortable chair in my air conditioned family room at home, but I did want to provide a final update for this years field work.
June 11th through the 14th. The morning of the 11th I wrapped up work on "Big Mo", the large Prognathodon I discovered last year. We had determined that collecting the specimen was just too ambitious for this year given our available time and crew size, so we have decided to rebury the specimen for collection in 2013. In the afternoon I shifted my focus to collecting other specimens found in previous years and some from this season. I checked out the articulated vertebrae that Octavio had found the previous day. We had a student from the Methodist University in Luanda working with us this year, Ana Marques, and together we began to excavate the specimen. It turned out to be the portion of the tail preserved in articulation was the section that bears a dorsal fleshy fluke and ventral bend. There
were also a number of isolated vertebrae from the anterior part of the tail surrounding it, but it appeared that this was the only portion of the animal preserved; However, the next morning we decided to move more of the overburden and witihin five minutes of arriving on site we found what appears to be a relatively complete skull and artculated neck vertebrae and some isolated limb and girdle elements. Over the next two days and with the help of Ana, Ricardo, and Louis we recovered the entire specimen in two large jackets and a number of smaller ones.
Articulated portions of tail of russellosaurian mosasaur.
Skeleton of the new specimen.
Ricardo and Ana excavating tail block.
Ricardo has been largely focused on collecting plesiosaur specimens to augment the collection made in previous years, the material on which his Phd work is based. This year he was able to find additional specimens that allow us to definitively link a number of partial skeletons to specific taxa, giving us a better composite view of their anatomy and thus providing better data to determine their relationships.
Ricardo excavating plesiosaur specimens.
Octavio has spent most of his time prospecting for dinosaurs in the terrestrial sediments near Bentiaba, finding a large number of bone fragments, some identifiable as sauropod limb elements. He also found yet another partial skull of the turtle Euclastes
Octavio and Ana excavating a partial Euclastes skull.
Partial Euclastes skull
On the 15th I drove Louis, Ricardo, Tyrone, and Ana to Lubango. Tyrone and Ana are finished with their field work for this year. Louis and Ricardo will meet another member of our crew, Scott Myers, in Luanda on the 17th. Those three will then travel to the northern province of Cabinda to collect fossil and isotope samples and collect data to work out the stratigraphy and paleotemperature of these fossil bearing sediments. During the trip to Cabinda the crew collected numerous fish teeth, a complete skull of a turtle, a crocodile humerous, and a single vertebra of a small snake. A major focus of the Cabinda leg was to sample and examine the rocks and fossils of Cabinda that are relevant to human evolution and to the climatic and environmental history of Africa and the Tropics. One of the most important topics in African paleontology is human evolution, documented mainly in East Africa. There has been no Tropical lowland West African record of fossil primates until our discovery of a single tooth in Cabinda. The importance of this find cannot be over estimated because it opens a new chapter that cannot be found elsewhere. Additioanally, they sampled the rocks for magnetic and chemical analysis that will be used to understand climatic changes in the African Tropics associated with such global events as the onset of Antarctic glaciation, which provide an environmental context for human evolution. Because the age of the rocks is imprecisely known, our work will have a major impact on this facet of science.
Cabinda localities. Jungle covers just about everything except the cliffs along the shore. These beach localities are the focus on our work here.
Ricardo and Scott on the largely vertical outcrops.
Louis and Scott collecting samples.
Turtle skull collected this year at Landana
Johanna Salminen (University of Helsinki, Finland) joined the team in Lubango on the 15th, returning with me to Bentiaba. She is a specialist in paleomagnetism. Throughout its history, the magentic polarity of the Earth has changed occassionally, and in some cases, as rocks are formed , they record that polarity. The dates of these polarity changes are now well known and the reversals can be used to correlate rocks over long distances. She collected rock samples from the Cretaceous sediments of Bentiaba and the K-Pg boundary section at Namibe to assist us with more precise dating of the rocks. Her colleague David Evans (Yale University) joined her in Lubango on the 27th to sample some of the oldest rocks in Angola to understand how the continent of Africa was formed. Certain kinds of rock found within granite in Namibe and Huíla can show through their magnetic properties how the continent of Africa was originally assembled. This is a fundamental scientific investigation and a direct outgrowth of discussions centered on our original work.
Johanna Salminen (University of Helsinki, Finland) with coring equipment.
Johanna sampling for paleomag at the K-Pg boundary in Namibe province.
Mike, Johanna, and Octavio at K-Pg boundary locality.
I spent the last few days at Bentiaba collecting the large Prognathodon specimen I found this year. Octavio collected a portion of a pterosaur wing. Although most of the specimen was left covered, it is the most complete found so far, consisting of at least three bones in articulation. He also began to uncover one of the turtle specimens I found this year. When I found it, only a few peripheral plates were showing, weathering out of the hill. As Octavio began to uncover the specimen,
the costal ribs were found in place and it became apparent that we had a semi-articulated (and given previous experience here), a relatively complete skeleton. However, this was the last day in the field and we were running out of time, so this fossil was also reburied for excavation next year.
Pterosaur wing block. Top left is the defined block prior to plastering, top right is a detail of the bone that was weathering on the surace, and the bottom image is teh block just prior to removal.
Octavio digging an articulated turtle. This one will need to wait till next year due to time constraints.
During the last week in Angola, Octavio and I began managing the crating and shipping of the collection. Joined by student Claudio Raposo (Agostinho Neto University, Angola), we also took one day to go to the Turonian locality of Iembe to collect the remains of a ninety million-year–old specimen of the turtle
previously named by Projecto PaleoAngola Angolachelys mbaxi. This specimen was discovered by Johan Lindgren who joined us during our 2009 field season, and is the best preserved and most complete specimen found thus far. Louis, Octavio and I had collected the skull block and part of the postcrania in 2011, but the large block collected by Octavio and I this year contains much of the postcrania. On our return drive from Iembe, we stopped to prospect sediments north of Barra do Dande and discovered another locality. It is interesting because it appears to contain a Campanian fauna and we found a couple of teeth of a rare durophageous mosasaur Globidens, that appears to be a different taxon from those reported elsewhere. The rest of the crew joined us in Luanda mid-week to finish the shipping prepartation that includes the collections made in 2011 and 2012 field seasons.
Removing the final block of the 2009 Angolachelys specimen.
Octavio and I talking to the students about fossils at the school in Iembe, the type locality of Angolatitan, Angolasaurus, and Angolachelys.
Repacking crates in Luanda.
Crates being prepared for shipment.
The crew left Luanda on the 30th of June.
The field team for the 2012 Projecto PaleoAngola Field Expedition included the following participants:
Louis L. Jacobs (Southern Methodist University, USA)
Octávio Mateus (FCT, UNL, Portugal)
Michael J. Polcyn (Southern Methodist University, USA)
Scott Myers (Southern Methodist University, USA)
Ricardo Araújo (Southern Methodist University, USA)
Ana Soraya Marques (Angola Methodist University, Angola)
Claudio Raposo (Agostinho Neto University, Angola)
Tyrone Rooney (Michigan State University, USA)
Johanna Salminen (University of Helsinki, Finland)
David Evans (Yale University, USA)
Funding for the field season was provided by Vida Foundation, Esso Angola through the Liga Nacional dos Amigos de 4 de Abril, the Institute for the Study of Earth and Man at Southern Methodist University, The Saurus Institute, and Yale University.
Today is the morning of the 11th of June. We have not had access to internet so we have been unable to update the blog. Last night, wildlife biologist Pedro Vas Pintos, drove the remaining part of the field crew, Octavio Mateus and Ricardo Aruge, from Lubango to our camp at Bentiaba. I was able to send a USB drive with this entry with him, so our colleague Anne Schulp in the Netherlands could update the blog for us. Louis and I along with the outfitters we hired in Namibe to supply logistics support (and most importantly, the cooks) arrived at Bentiaba late in the afternoon on June 5th.
2012 PaleoAngola Field Camp at Bentiaba
Our fantastic support crew... Lionel, Chilombo, and Cici
Breakfast with Pedro Vas Pintos and family and the PaleoAngola 2012 field crew - June 11, 2012.
After making camp, Louis had to return to Lubango to pick up another of our team members, Tyrone Rooney from the Michigan State University at Lancing. Tyrone is a geochemist specializing in igneous rocks. He has joined us to examine the geochemical characteristics of the abundant basalts in the region. The coast of Angola is a rifted margin, and Tyrone specializes in studying the igneous rocks of rift to deduce what happened during continental breakup.
Below is a summary of highlights of the 6th-10th of June… On June 6th I left camp early and hit the outcrops to do some prospecting and walk off nearly a week of sitting in airplanes and cars. I decided to prospect higher in the section, in rocks that are somewhat younger than the beds we have worked in previous years. The morning was very productive to say the least. In a mere few hours I had found a string of semi articulated plesiosaur vertebrae, a relatively fragmentary mosasaur skull, an interesting fish, a turtle, and a huge mosasaur skull of the genus Prognathodon! After a lunch break, I began to uncover the Prognathodon skull, and although it was pretty badly weathered, it did preserve enough to warrant excavating and preparing for study.
June 7th I continued to work on the large Prognathodon skull. Much of the work at this stage is carefully removing enough rock to define the limits of the fossil to determine how it can be removed as safely and as compactly as possible. We try to avoid exposing more than we need to avoid damage to the fossil. Working into the afternoon I was able to defined two relatively small blocks for removal. I will complete the remainder of the excavation later, when I have some help moving the generators into place to drive the power tools. At that point we will trench around the specimen
Excavation of fragmentary Prognathodon skull.
Detail of an isolated tooth of the specimen.
By late afternoon I was ready to do a little more prospecting and found a very nice turtle carapace preserved intact in relatively hard sandstone. No skull or limbs are visible, but given the nice preservation of the portion that is showing, I am hopeful more will be there. Since June 8th I have been primarily focused on excavating a large mosasaur specimen that I found the last day of the field season in July of 2011. At the time I found the 2011 specimen, only the shattered remains of a single tooth and a short segment of a jaw was showing. We were getting ready to leave the field the next morning, so with limited time, Anne Schulp and I uncovered only enough to confirm that there were at least three jaws with teeth in place, and came away confident that that we had a semiarticulated skull. It was also obvious, given the size of the teeth, that this was a huge animal. Over the past few days I have been able to uncover most of the skull and now have a good idea of the limits of the block. This will be one of the largest single blocks we have taken out in Angola.
Excavation of 2011 specimen of Prognathodon in process. You can see the jaws converging at the bottom of the picture. From left to right –right dentary, left dentary let maxilla, right maxilla. Isolated teeth in lower left picture.
Now that I have had a few days with the specimen, it is clear that this is another large Prognathodon, the same species as the skull I discovered a few days ago. We currently have a paper in press reporting the occurrence in Angola of Prognathodon saturator (A species previously know only form northern Europe). The specimen that we reported was a small fragment of jaw and a single badly preserved tooth. These new specimens will give us a much more complete view of the anatomy and relationships of this animal and will tell us for certain, whether we have that species here in Angola.
JUNE 3, Lubango
Just a quick update to kick off the field blog for this year. Louis and I arrived in Luanda On the 1st of June and with the help of many friends and colleagues here in Angola, we managed to get all of our required supplies, vehicle, and our travel documents in record time....a single day. That enabled us to leave Luanda on Saturday morning, and begin our journey to the marine Cretaceous field localities in the south.
ON THE ROAD TO LUBANGO- LUNCH STOP
We spent Saturday night in Benguela, on the coast of Angola. Sunday morning we headed inland and drove up to the plateau, then south to Lubango. We are meeting with old friends and colleagues along the way and finalizing details of schedules and dealing with logistics issues. Great driving weather both days and the scenery is fantastic. Along the way we stopped under the shade of a tree for a lunch (banana-dogs and water -see recipe below). Tomorrow, we are heading for Namibe, and hopefully will be in the outcrops by Tuesday.
BANANA-DOGS FOR LUNCH!! (figured out how to use camera timer ...finally).
A bunch of Bananas- preferably a variety of banana that grows around Bengula, within a couple hours of being cut from the tree
2 Fresh Portuguese Bread Rolls (fresh this morning, liberated from the breakfast bar at the guest-house in Benguela)
Preparation- Put a whole Banana on half of bread roll, repeat 2 times, for each serving.
Serves two paleontologists. Best eaten from the hood of your field vehicle. Serve with bottled water, recent vintage preferred.
A great week full of mosasaurs
The past week of fieldwork at a handful of localities in the south of the country has been very succesful indeed. Among many other things, we recovered a couple of interesting fossils that may tell us more about the evolution and distribution of a peculiar group of mosasaurs, the globidensines. These ‘Globidensini’, as they’re officially called, were a rather diverse group of mosasaurs, ranging in size from less than three to more than ten meters.
During our fieldwork at Bentiaba in the south of Angola, in the past couple of years we focused a lot of effort at the Bentiaba site on the layers which were deposited a few million years before the end of the Cretaceous. This yielded so far a very well-preserved, and by now also well-documented mosasaur fauna, including a new, small globidensine, which we named Prognathodon kianda.
This year we moved ‘up’ in time at Bentiaba, to the slightly higher (and therefore, in this case, younger) layers, exposed a bit further east. The mosasaur fossils from these higher levels show an interesting similarity with the fauna we know from Maastricht (where team member Anne Schulp is based), and the discoveries this week included remains of a larger Mosasaurus hoffmanni-like mosasaur, as well as a single tooth of a small, and rather elusive globidensine mosasaur, Carinodens. A single tooth may not sound like much, but considering how rare fossils of this particular animals are, it certainly counts as a very important discovery. The discovery of a few fragments of an interestingly different Halisaurus-like mosasaur is another highlight. We also finally got around recovering the remains of what appears to have been a much larger globidensine mosasaur – not a complete skeleton yet, but the fragments we have point at a body size of more than ten meters at least.
July 21. Dinosaur and mammal tracks at a diamond mine!!
Projecto PaleoAngola member Octávio Mateus visited the Catoca diamond mine between 15 and 17 of July 2011
to investigate vertebrate tracks reported by a geologist employed at the mine, Vladimir Pervov. Mateus not only
confirmed the occurrence of the originally reported tracks, but also discovered dinosaur tracks.
The originally reported tracks were probably produced by mammals or mammaliforme animals, which is very
unusual for the geological age of the sediments: Early Cretaceous. All the mammal tracks were recorded
(photographed, numbered and drawn), and collected, totalling about 70 distinct tracks. The dinosaur tracks
probably belong to sauropod dinosaurs and one of the tracks shows skin impressions. The dinosaur tracks were
not collected due to their fragile preservation, but they were documented and the skin impression was
The tracks from Catoca are scientifically important because of the setting and geological age. This is the first
occurrence of dinosaur or mammal tracks in Angola. Fossils from the Early Cretaceous of this region of Africa
are extremely rare and the occurrence of mammal tracks are even more rare anywhere in the Cretaceous.
We would like to express our gratitude to the Sociedade Mineira de Catoca, in particular, José Manuel Augusto
Ganga Jr. for the support and permissions, and also to Teófilo Assunção Rodrigues Chifunga for the logistical
support. Last but not least, we thank Vladimir Pervov for bringing the tracks to our attention and heping with
the field work, and especially his insights into the deposition of the sedimentary rocks in this unusual environment.
July 17. Another week in palaeontological paradise.
Saturday and Sunday we hauled out the blocks containing the fossils... and by "we", I mean
the helpers we hired to carry them out of the canyon and to the beach, to be loaded into
the waiting Toyoata Landcruiser.
It is truly an incredible haul. Contained in about 27 blocks, we have at least four partial whale skulls,
vertebrae, ribs, girdle and limb elements. As previously mentioned, we also have what is probably a
complete crocodylian skull including lower jaws and some postcrania, but it is still largely contained
within the rock.
Most of the specimens are encased in rock, and only their odd shape or a broken edge reveals the
bones inside. These will be shipped to our laboratory in Dallas where they will be prepared for study
by removing the rock, either mechanicaly or with acid.
One of the whale skulls came out of the ground in almost perfectly prepared condition, rock only
covering small portions of the bones. Louis and I have been cleaning it and collecting data on it
before we encase it in plaster bandages for transport.
One of the remarkable things about this fossil is the presence of at least two fish fossils preserved
in its blow-hole!!! You can see the backbone and skull of one in the top right and center portions
of the picture and the scaled body of a second one in the lower right. They must have been living
within the voids of the skull on the bottom of the ocean, only to be buried and preserved within
We found an additional locality on Friday which has whale bones preserved in beach boulders... Much
the same mode of preservation as the canyon locality, what appears to be a hard-ground, but the
inverterate fossils are different and may indicate we are looking at another slice of time. We made a
small collection at low tide, but will need to leave this locality for another field season.
Ocatavio Mateus and Kalunga Lima will join us tomorrow and the four of us will then head south to meet
up with Anne Schulp on Thursday in Lubango. More to come...
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