Our first week in the field has been spectacular! Remarkable discoveries seem to be waiting for us around every dune. On our first day, we found bones of the long-necked dinosaur Nigersaurus.
Nigersaurus, you might remember, we named for bones collected on the last expedition here three years ago. This sauropod (long-necked dinosaur) has an unusual skull containing as many as 500 slender teeth.
A major goal of this expedition is to find the rest of this unusual dinosaur so we can describe it and reconstruct it for everyone to see.
We are closing in on that goal fast because we came upon a skeleton a few days later! This skeleton is lying on its side with the tail curved upward.
The curve of the backbone measures about 15 feet. We carefully brushed the sand off the 110 million-year-old bones and dug channels between the major areas of the skeleton.
Soon we will cover each area in plaster so that the skeleton can be transported out of the field and back to the laboratory.
But that’s not all for Nigersaurus. Chris took us all to a flat area of purple-colored sandstone where he had located the upper jaw of a baby Nigersaurus—one that would fit on top of a silver dollar! This Nigersaurus was a hatchling, probably less than one year from hatching when it died and was fossilized.
A new carnivore
While walking across a very flat area, Gabe made a remarkable find—the bones of a new meat-eating dinosaur lay partially exposed at her feet. She brushed away the sand from the upper jaw. Nearby lay part of the backbone and the hip bones. This was a mean customer—the bones are from a skeleton that would measure about 30 feet long! We hope to find more evidence of this sharp-toothed creature as the field season goes on.
A huge crocodile
We are interested in finding more than just dinosaurs. We want to find all animals and plants that once lived along the ancient streams and forests 110 million years ago. One of the most common fossils we encountered in the first week of work belonged to an enormous crocodile called Sarcosuchus.
This reptile was far larger than any living crocodile. Judging from the 6-foot skull we found in the first week, we suspect it may have measured over 40 feet long! The armor plates on its back measured a foot across. We even laid out the team to get a sense of just how big this animal was.
Hans has been working with a crew of Allison and Dave to excavate a new site. As we dug around the skull, we uncovered another juvenile skull of the same species lying right next to the big one. They carved a block of rock that included both skulls, knowing full well that it would weigh around 600 pounds when encased in plaster.
So I think you might agree that the first week here has been a thriller.