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June 11, Bentiaba, Angola; June 3, Lubango, Angola

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.

Tyrone Rooney

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).

 

BANANA-DOGS RECIPE

Ingredients.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PaleoAngola field season 2011 – Blog entry 5

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.


   

PaleoAngola Field Season 2011 Entry 4

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

collected.


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.

 

   

PaleoAngola Field Season 2011 Entry 3

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

their home.

 

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...

   

PaleoAngola Field Season 2011 Entry 2

July 15, 2011 - Pliocene Whales and Crocodiles

We have been working near Rio Cuanza for the past few days. A geologist colleague had found some whale

and croc material here this past year while on a field trip from Luanda and tipped us off to the locality.

We relocated the matrial he had found and have now identified more than two dozen additional specimens

for removal. The specimens consist of one or more bones, most preserved in concretions.

The most spectacular fossils are a very well preserved whale skull and the skull of a crocodile.

The latter has only the premaxillary teeth and a bit of the lower jaws showing, but

promises to be a great specimen.

At this point this appears to be a Pliocene locality based on the presence of the Great White

Shark, Carcharodon cacharias. We plan to remove the fossils this weekend.

Getting in and out of the locality has been a bit of fun. We can only pass certain points by 4 wheel drive at low

tide, and even with 4WD that can be challenging.  While hiking out yesterday, the high tide nearly blocked our exit.

We timed the waves and managed to get by, getting wet only to the knees. Our colleague Octavio Mateus

arrived in Lunda yesterday and is now in Catoca in the interior checking out some reported fossil tracks. He will

also be prospecting for fossil vertebrates during his stay.   More to come...

   

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