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Outpost DinoQuest SAHARA
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PROFILE:  Dig Site 1
Duration of Encampment
Late August to mid-September

Location
Classified*

Approximate Age of Fossil Beds
110 million years

Terrain
Dune Fields

Previous Sereno Finds
Nigersaurus (“Nigerian lizard”): 49-foot-long (15-meter-long) long-necked plant eater with more than 600 teeth; “an unbelievably bizarre animal,” says Sereno
Ouranosaurus (“brave [monitor] lizard”): 23-foot-long (7-meter-long), sail-backed, duck-billed plant eater
Suchomimus (“crocodile mimic”): species first discovered here in 1997; 36-foot-long (11-meter-long), crocodile-like fish eater

Projected Finds
• Several partial Nigersaurus skeletons
• Added evidence of Sarcosuchus (“flesh-eating crocodile”), a 50-foot-long (15-meter-long) crocodile

* To protect these fossil beds from looters, the National Geographic Society will not disclose specific locations.
Dispatches: Previous

Dig Site 1
Dispatch 2 (continued)


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New dinosaurs have also been found. One is a small, two-legged plant eater that had a slender jaw with leaf-shaped teeth.

The second dinosaur, found by Chris Sidor, was a fleet-footed predator, no more than three feet long. Its slender neck and ribcage were preserved poking out of the rock. Its long, clawed hind leg was uncovered as we dug around the exposed bones. This new carnivore is very exciting because nothing is known about Africa’s smaller dinosaurs during Cretaceous times, when small dinosaurs like Deinonychus and Velociraptor roamed the northern landmasses.


Dogosaurus

Most people think that all dinosaurs are large, but there are as many moderate sized dinosaurs—six feet or less—as there are large dinosaurs. These interesting plant eaters and meat eaters, however, are rarely preserved because their bones and skeletons are more fragile than their larger cousins.

The new small dinosaur will provide the first good look at a small predatory dinosaur from this time period.


Suchomimus wishbone

Suchomimus
The unusual fin-backed spinosaur we discovered during the last expedition, Suchomimus, is the largest and most common predator in the fossil beds at Camp 1. We uncovered more than 85% of the animal in 1997 and were able to mount a life-sized skeleton to display at the announcement. On this expedition we have found another beautifully preserved skeleton that includes bones we didn’t have from the first skeleton—including a huge hind foot and a wishbone (!) that fit between the shoulders.


Theropod tooth

New Carnivore
We long suspected there was at least one other large meat eater (at least the size of Suchomimus, 36-feet long) on the scene 110 million years ago because we have on many occasions found its dagger-shaped teeth. These flattened teeth look very different from Suchomimus teeth. Suchomimus teeth resemble crocodile teeth—they are cylindrical in cross-section and hook-shaped—well suited for catching fish. In fact, the only way to be sure you have a Suchomimus tooth and not a crocodile tooth is to examine the edges for very small serrations, like the serrations found on the teeth of predatory dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus.


Theropod

We are zeroing in on the animal, but are only beginning to make out what it looked like. It probably wasn’t as common or didn’t frequent the river habitat as much as Suchomimus. The flattened teeth with the wrinkled enamel, and the shape of the skull bone over the eye gave us an early clue that we might be dealing with a fore-runner of Africa’s tyrant dinosaur, Carcharodontosaurus, a huge dinosaur that lived 90 million years ago.

One of Gabrielle Lyon’s finds while at Camp 1 confirmed these suspicions. We now have several jaw bones with teeth in place, a pelvic girdle, vertebrae—all consistent with an animal that grew to the size of Suchomimus, one that may be an early relative of Carcharodonotosaurus.

We are very excited about this new dinosaur—it would be nice to find more of this theropod, but it is very rare.


Nigersaurus

Nigersaurus
One of the most satisfying outcomes of Camp 1 is that we have filled out the skeleton of Nigersaurus, the 600-toothed plant eater we have come to know from our previous discoveries. We are missing only a few bones of the skull, feet and the tip of the tail.

Nigersaurus we now know, is a relative of North America’s Jurassic Diplodocus. It used to be thought that Diplodocus and all of its close relatives (the diplodocoids) died out at the end of the Jurassic. We now know that the group did not go entirely extinct. One group of these long-necked plant eaters survived into the Cretaceous period on southern continents like Africa. Nigersaurus—with its absolutely bizarre jaw adaptations—will shortly be the best known of these Cretaceous descendents.

Nigersaurus was not a very large sauropod as sauropods go. It probably reached a maximum size of 50 feet in length. The discovery of a tiny jaw of a Nigersaurus hatchling, however, was quite a surprise! All dinosaurs hatched from eggs, and even sauropods like Nigersaurus started out quite small.

We have more than half the field season ahead of us, but as you can imagine with this kind of an exciting start, we are already contemplating how we will prepare, study, describe and announce these new findings. Many of them will be named as new species and together are giving us the most complete picture of life on Africa during 110 million years ago.

Learn more about the expedition at the Project Exploration Web site.


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