Earth Sciences in Angola

A graduate student and a postdoctoral researcher in SMU’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, along with Professor Louis L. Jacobs, are conducting research in Angola in southern Africa during summer 2012. They are members of an international scientific program called the PaleoAngola Project, which seeks to discover and study Angola’s vertebrate paleontology and learn about the environment in which prehistoric creatures lived. Readers also can follow their work at paleoangola.org/

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Found: a well-preserved turtle skull

An update from Scott and Ricardo:

This morning we got up at 6:30. Low tide was at 10:25, so we wanted to arrive in Lândana as early as possible in order to maximize our time on the outcrop before the tides rose again in the afternoon.

One of the fossils Dr. Jacobs uncovered yesterday turned out to be an exceptionally well-preserved turtle skull! This material may belong to the genus Bantuchelys, specimens of which were collected at Lândana, described, and named by the Belgian paleontologist Dartevelle in the 1930s. However, Dartevelle’s Bantuchelys material consists of only the shell, which is currently housed in the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium, just outside of Brussels. Our new find is the first turtle skull known from the Cenozoic of Western Africa.

Scott Myers has been describing the stratigraphic section in detail, and Ricardo Araújo has been collecting shark teeth from as many of the stratigraphic layers as possible. Once we get back to Dallas, we will measure the oxygen isotope composition of the tooth enamel, which we can use to estimate marine paleotemperatures.

This is just the beginning; soon we will be able to unveil the paleoecological mysteries of one of the classic examples of early Cenozoic African coastal ecosystems here in Cabinda.

Ricardo excavating turtle skull at Landana.

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