A Third of the Way Through

Rice's Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Ph.D. student Robert Laroche provides 'a day in the life' for their trip to Niger, Africa to further research


I’m writing this post on the fly as we only have had one day back in Agadez to unpack from the first leg of the expedition and repack everything for the next three weeks. There’s so much that’s happened since my last post I feel like I could fill a book, but I’ll try to give the highlights here. Basically, with a team and endeavor this big, things never seem to go exactly as planned. As mentioned in our recent feature in the Chicago tribune, the first leg of the trip was delayed greatly as we waited for all the red tape to be cut to clear us for departure. This left us with one breakneck-paced week in Gadoufauoa to excavate an entire dinosaur in addition to a plethora of other fossils. However, our troubles weren’t over yet. The single day trip to Gadoufauoa took three days instead as we were plagued by vehicle breakdowns, getting stuck in the sand, and subsequently having to find new routes through the desert. When we finally arrived, the sight was incredible-a flat expanse of sand and rock with fossils projecting from the surface everywhere.


The ground was littered by ancient croc and theropod teeth and, because the site is well known and frequented by locals, rows of fossilized dinosaur vertebrae had been arranged on mounds of soil to form the stone snakes of Tuareg legend. Among all of these was one unlike the others, surrounded by plaster covers-the specimen we had come for, an Ouranosaurus with a nearly complete sail, which had been reburied on the last visit to Niger due to a lack of time and resources needed to collect it. Somehow, staying up until midnight each night with flood lights, we managed to remove the fossil section by section, sometimes in massive plaster jackets.


Thankfully, we also found the time to visit the nearby microsite, loaded with too many specimens to describe, including fish with some of the most articulated scales I’ve ever seen in a fossil! In the short time we had I saw lungfish tooth plates, rayed fins, and a number of other structures that suggest an incredible diversity of fish buried in the rock! Using a rock saw, we succeeded in removing a block from this site and plan to return during leg 3 to carve up and collect the rest. Finally, the team took the last day to make a stop in Gobero, an archeological site by a dried lake that had been home to many people at two different periods within the last 10,000 years, both at times when the area was green and fresh water from the lake was plentiful. The countless artifacts, hippo bones, and delicate burials here that have been exposed by the elements have the potential to tell a detailed story of the rich life and culture of the historic communities that lived in present day Niger. The next morning we made the arduous trek back to Agadez, this time managing it in a single, very long day. For the next three weeks we’ll be excavating a sauropod graveyard and making plaster jackets even more massive than those from last week. With any luck, I’ll have time for another post in the days when I return!


All of Robert's research blogs can be found here: https://robertaslaroche.com/blog/.