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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Seeking clues about our earliest ancestors

An update from Scott and Ricardo:

Ricardo braving the cliffs at high tide to access the beach near Malembo.

Not all days are great days, and today was rather difficult. We decided to revisit one of the fossil localities that we first explored about two years ago. We wanted to link the rocks we measured yesterday to those at this locality by working northward back toward Lândana, but the steep cliffs and monstrous rock falls prevented us from doing that.

However, we were still able to collect more shark teeth for isotopic analysis, and we measured the strata exposed at the locality. It may be an idiosyncrasy of working in the tropics, but getting to the beach can be quite an arduous task. The jungle grows fast, and it’s often difficult for local villagers to maintain the paths and prevent them from becoming impassable. We spend a good deal of time just trying to find a way down the cliffs to the outcrops on the beach.

The 15 km stretch of outcrop we need to measure and sample may provide invaluable clues about the evolution of early human-like primates around 50 million years ago. Previous field work unearthed the tooth of an anthropoid primate near the town of Malembo. Although landslides and coastal erosion have made this site difficult to reach, it may yield more material with the potential to illuminate the deep history of our earliest human ancestors. This is just another reason Cabinda is such a unique and exciting place to work!

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