Scientists from Braunschweig were looking for dinosaur fossils in the Republic of Niger and discovered two new species!

Between 2005 and 2008 a small group of scientists from the Natural History Museum of Brunswick undertook four trips to the Republic of Niger in Western Africa. The group was led by Prof. Dr. Ulrich Joger and Dr. Ralf Kosma and their aim was to find dinosaur fossils and to extract them from the soil. The scientists had to deal with a number of adversities, like a rebellion, illnesses, lack of water and of course the burning heat; but finally some fossils were found and could be extracted. They turned out to be two completely new kinds of dinosaur. Thus the dig of the Brunswick team became the first successful German dinosaur excavation dig in Africa in 100 years.
The place of discovery and the excavation of 2005
An unspoiled dinosaur cemetery in the desert of Niger – it was a tip-off from the local Tuareg people that alerted Prof. Dr. Ulrich Joger to the existence of this place. No one had dug for dinosaur fossils here before. On the surface a lot of weathered and broken fossil bones are visible. Are there more undiscovered skeletons in the soil?
The start of the probing period
Prof. Joger discovered a bone-coloured roundish object on the surface. When he started to dig deeper he discovered a complete thigh bone with a length of 133 cm. Right next to it, a shoulder blade of 132 cm was discovered. Furthermore, the team found a vertebra. This was connected to other vertebra and eventually a complete spine was excavated. The soil which embedded the bones was hard but brittle clay and sandstone.
The completely excavated skeleton of the first specimen
The spine had a total length of 13 metres and was positioned in a circle. The long neck and other anatomical features led the finders to assume a middle-sized sauropod. However neither the right tools nor the team needed for a safe excavation were present at the site. So the scientists carefully covered the skeleton with sheets and detritus and left it where it was.
A discovery site of tracks
Back in Germany, the museum's director Prof. Dr. Ulrich Joger started the proceedings to get an official permission for the excavation of the finds and the transport to Germany. Permission was granted in the autumn of 2006, and a pre-expedition to the excavation site left Germany in November 2006. The skeleton was as it had been left after the first expedition. About one kilometer away from the site another discovery was made – tracks of Dromaeosauridae (Raptors) were found over a length of 40 metres. The first evidence of raptors in Africa! These tracks were described as Paravipus didactyloides in 2011.
Excavation tour 2007 – Start of the journey
After receiving the official permission for the excavation and the required sponsorship, the first excavation expedition took place in March and April of 2007 in the Republic of Niger. Almost the entire equipment had to be brought to Africa from Germany. Two large transport vehicles packed with medicines, repair materials for the cars, glue and hardener, and other equipment needed for the excavation of fossils and the well-being of the team started on their way to Africa. The expedition team split up, a number of people flew to Africa; however five people, including Prof. Joger drove to Africa with the off-road expedition trucks. The way through central Sahara was not an option though; terrorist attacks led to a ban on the area. So they had to take the long way, 10000 km through Spain, Morocco, Mauritania and Mali to Niger. 
An adventurous journey
The team with Prof. Joger left Braunschweig on 1st March 2007. They had an exciting 20 day trip. They had to cross a mine field, came across a saw-scaled viper (one of the deadliest venomous snakes in the world) and had to change a tire in 39° heat. They also visited the Mosque of San in Mali (built entirely from clay). On 18th March the team crossed the Niger river and reached the semi-desert. Two days later they arrived at the excavation site where the rest of their team was already waiting.
Oh no, where's our dino?
The half of the team that took the plane to reach Africa, together with Dr. Ralf Kosma, landed in the Republic of Niger on 12th March 2007. Permission to excavate was granted on 15th March 2007. The team left for the excavation site full of anticipation. The next day they visited the excavation site. However, the dinosaur skeleton was gone. The team found evidence of a professional excavation. Someone else had dug out the Brunswick dinosaur and taken it away. The team was distraught. Were all their struggles for nothing?
A new excavation site
After digesting the shock of the missing skeleton a probing excavation was started. The scientists hoped that they would find an alternative for their first missing skeleton. They were rewarded. Small jawbone fragments and fragments  of teeth led to the assumption of a full skull. The bones now had to be exposed so that the completeness of the skeleton was visible. The next day, the team discovered parts of the ribcage and neck vertebra and a tooth with root. After some more careful sweeping a broken shoulder blade, a large humerus as well as numerous ribs and parts of vertebra were discovered. The way the parts were positioned led the finders to believe that they had a full skeleton. The team worked carefully to free the bones of the embedding stones.
Scientist secured and filled in the numerous cuts and breaks in the ancient fossils. The surface of the bones was partly porose and had to be treated and hardened. Afterwards the hardened bones were covered in aluminium foil to stop the plaster from entering the bones. Plastering was done by dipping jute cloths in plaster and then putting the cloths on the bones. Depending on the fragility of the bones, this process was repeated numerous times. Once the plaster had hardened the bone was carefully loosened from the stone and the plastering process was repeated with the under side of the bone fragment. Finally the bones were numbered to make sure that they could be put together in the right order after transport was completed.
Silicone-print of the Paravipus-track
The raptor tracks that were found in November 2006 had to be saved as well. These tracks proofed for the first time the existence of these raptors in Africa. Cutting out the footprints and transporting them to Germany would have been a costly and destructive method, however. Furthermore not all footprints could have been saved that way. So the team decided to cast 7 metres of the prints in mould. To do this the scientists firstly formed a 10 cm high plaster wall. Once this was dry the liquid silicone could be poured in. However, due to the high humidity the silicone had not hardened by the time of departure, so the team decided to leave it in place until the next year.
Discovery of a part skeleton of Jobaria tiguidensis
In 2007, on their third stay in Niger, the team probed a new area on the cliffs of Tiguidit, about 50 kilometres south-east of the original discovery site. The giant vertebra bones of a Jobaria tiguidensis (long necked dinosaur) were found at the bottom of a hill, covered by sandstone. A large part of the bones could be covered in plaster. However, the trucks were already too full and the bones were very big, so the team left them in place; under care of the local Tuareg.
The preparation of fossils in Brunswick
Once the bones had reached Braunschweig the preparators used a gentle method to free the bones from the plaster. Afterwards the surface of the bones was cleaned from any sedimentary rock that was still attached with help of an pneumatic engraving pen. After that, any bone fragments that had broken off could be glued back on and the glue joints were rubbed away. Missing parts were filled in with spattling compound.
Afterwards all bones and bone fragments were hardened with a special hardener to conserve them and protect them form further decay. The true significance of the Braunschweig expedition was actually only discovered during the preparation phase, which took about two and a half years: The sauropod belonged to an undiscovered species.
Reconstruction of the dinosaur skeleton
Once it became clear that the dinosaur belonged to a new species, work on the extensive scientific first description began. To reconstruct the skeleton the bones and bone fragments were scanned in with a new three-dimensional laser system, digitally re-worked and put together. Since some of the Braunschweig dinosaur bones were missing – only about 70% of bone skeleton had been discovered – the scientists used another skeleton of the same new species. This was now in Spain and it was used to help with the missing pieces. Whilst working together with the Spanish colleagues it actually turned out that the Spanish specimen was the first skeleton that the Braunschweig team had found in Africa and that had disappeared. With the help of the Berlin Natural History Museum and of Dr. Kristian Remes, a scientist who had written his thesis on the Sauropod skeletons kept in Berlin, the new dinosaur was finally successfully reconstructed.

Scientific report
In 2009, Dr. Kristian Remes succeeded in constructing a combined skeleton representation of both specimens (the one in Braunschweig and the one in Elche in Spain). The animals were about 13 to 14 metres long and had a shoulder height of about 4 metres. The scientific name of Spinophorosaurus nigerensis (Stinged dinosaur from Niger) was decided upon together with the colleagues in Spain.

Spacial and temporal classification
Spinophorosaurus nigerensis lived in the north of Gondwana during the middle Jurassic epoch (about 170 million years ago). Back then South America, Africa, Australia, Antarctica and India were still a connected landmass. The ancient super-continent Gondwana split during the Cretaceous period, after the Atlantic ocean was created. Spinophorosaurus nigerensis forms the basis of the genealogical tree of the sauropod family. This is known due to the special features of the skull and spine. It is another significant find for the research into the developmental history of the long necked dinosaurs.

Excavation expedition 2008 – The Jobaria discovery site
In 2008, during the last excavation expedition of the museum (so far) the excavation team found the Jobaria bones just had they had left them 11 months previously. The recovery could now be completed: the soil layers were removed with the help of a drill hammer to reach the skeleton at the foot of the hill.
Jobaria tail
During the week long dig, the team was able to find the eight metre long, complete tail of the dinosaur, numerous pelvic bones as well as some vertebra. After everything had been covered in plaster the heavy bone blocks could be transported.
Negatives of the tracks
In 2008, the silicone mould that had been left on the third expedition in 2007 to save the raptor tracks, was finally dry. The mould could be loosened carefully by the scientists: the result was a splendid series of footprints. The complete tracks were outlined with chalk, photographed and then the entire series of tracks (60sqm) was traced with a water-proof pen on transparency.
Paravipus didactyloides
The fossil tracks from Niger were examined intensively and a copy of them was made with the help of glass fibre mats and epoxy resin.

There was no way to know what the originators of the tracks looked like, since only footprints were found, no bones. The researchers based their assumptions with regards to looks on the anatomy of other raptors on other continents that left similar footprints. Thus the second sensational result of the Brunswick expedition came about: the Braunschweig team had discovered another new species. The track taxon was named Paravipus didactyloides which means “Track of a two-toed bird-like animal”. The name signifies the distinctiveness of the find: the footprints, that the two-legged predator left behind 160 – 170 million years ago in the soft mud of Africa.

Staatliches Naturhistorisches Museum Braunschweig
Credits: Story

Mareike Goldschmied

Dr. Ralf Kosma

Julia Moore

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Joger, Karoline Scheeler, Silke Röhling, Dina Michel, Mareike Goldschmied

- Joger, Ulrich / Kosma, Ralf / Krüger, Fritz J.: Projekt Dino. Die Entdeckungsgeschichte neuer Dinosaurier in Niger, Afrika. hrsg. von Ulrich Joger, Staatliches Naturhistorisches Museum Braunschweig. Schwülper: Cargo Verlag, 2009.
- Remes K, Ortega F, Fierro I, Joger U, Kosma R, Marín Ferrer JM, et al. (2009) A New Basal Sauropod Dinosaur from the Middle Jurassic of Niger and the Early Evolution of Sauropoda. PLoS ONE 4(9): e6924. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006924

© Prof. Dr. Ulrich Joger
© Dr. Ralf Kosma
© Achim Ritter
© Jörg Faust
© Michael Rabe
© Edgar Sommer
© Caroline Heyer
© Claus Cordes
© Maria Neppe
© 2009 Remes et al.
© 2009 Remes et al.

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