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

Our last day in the field

An update from Scott and Ricardo: Last time we were at Malembo Point, Dr. Jacobs befriended a sea turtle that would surface occasionally to check on our work. As we were hiking down to the locality today for a last round of fossil collecting, we met a group of fishermen. When we asked to see their catch, Dr. Jacobs was disappointed to see that they had caught a turtle. After a few hours on the beach, though, we saw a little turtle head poking out above the waves, so maybe "our" turtle is still alive and swimming happily through the ocean. We are all pretty tired at this point, but we've managed to collect good stratigraphic data and some important [...]

2012-06-29T18:53:33+00:00 June 26th, 2012|Earth Sciences in Angola|

A run-in with modern-day mammals

An update from Scott and Ricardo: As we were driving into Cabinda City this morning to make arrangements for our flight back to Luanda on Wednesday, Ricardo noticed that the ownership and insurance documents for the rental truck were missing from the glovebox. We immediately returned to search our rooms, but we soon discovered that our friendly local rodents had built a nest behind the glovebox on top of the AC filter. Scott donned latex gloves and pulled a mess of shredded paper, plant debris, bones and plastic bags from inside the dashboard, as well as three baby mice. Luckily, the rental documents survived relatively intact. This explains why the car smelled less than fresh when we turned [...]

2012-06-29T18:52:10+00:00 June 25th, 2012|Earth Sciences in Angola|

Filling in the blanks

An update from Scott and Ricardo: We started out this morning with an unexpected surprise. Last night we were so tired when we returned to our rooms at Futila Beach that we forgot to remove the day's lunch leftovers from the truck. This morning, when we loaded our gear into the vehicle, we found that the food had been discovered by some industrious rodents that had plowed through several bananas and empty sardine tins. To repay our generosity, the rats left us little brown "presents" all over the seats and floorboards. After cleaning out the truck, we drove to Malembo and hiked down to the beach. Malembo Point is the fossil locality where Dartevelle and others collected several [...]

2012-06-29T18:50:54+00:00 June 24th, 2012|Earth Sciences in Angola|

Moving on to Malembo

An update from Scott and Ricardo: We finally completed as much of the stratigraphic section as is possible working south from Lândana. We measured approximately 32 meters of section and collected over 150 fossils (mostly shark and ray teeth). That works out to an average sampling density of around one tooth every 20 cm! Now we will switch our focus to the outcrops near Malembo and attempt to correlate those rocks with what we've measured at Lândana. After we finished at Lândana, we drove south to try to locate a way down to another of the localities that Dr. Jacobs visited a few years ago. With the help of a local villager, Ricardo and Dr. Jacobs hiked down [...]

2012-06-29T16:46:19+00:00 June 23rd, 2012|Earth Sciences in Angola|

Seeking clues about our earliest ancestors

An update from Scott and Ricardo: 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 [...]

2012-06-29T16:45:25+00:00 June 22nd, 2012|Earth Sciences in Angola|

No mammals, but a bird fossil

An update from Scott and Ricardo: We returned to Lândana again today. We are carefully working our way south toward Malembo Point. In order to determine how these two localities are related to each other, it's imperative that we link them stratigraphically by tracing the rock layers from one to the other. Dr. Jacobs found the upper arm bone of a very large crocodile, which was artfully removed from the encasing rock by Ricardo. We continued to collect numerous shark and ray teeth from throughout the stratigraphy until the rising tide forced us to quit work and move to a different site before we found ourselves stranded. We located a dirt road that leads to the beach near the mouth [...]

2012-06-29T16:44:02+00:00 June 21st, 2012|Earth Sciences in Angola|

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 [...]

2012-06-29T16:42:50+00:00 June 20th, 2012|Earth Sciences in Angola|

First day in the field in Cabinda

An update from Scott and Ricardo: After a brief stay in Luanda to procure the necessary travel documents, today was our first day in the field here in the northern Angolan enclave of Cabinda, which has some of the most exceptional fossil localities in lowland equatorial Africa. We drove north to the town of Lândana, where we stopped to measure part of the stratigraphic section and collect fossils that were weathering out of the outcrop, including turtle, crocodile, and fish bones. We spent the rest of the afternoon looking for a way to access the outcrops farther south at Malembo Point. Along the southern coast, the luxurious Angolan forest emerges, and our path to the beaches at Malembo Point was [...]

2012-06-29T16:41:22+00:00 June 19th, 2012|Earth Sciences in Angola|

Uncovering a mosasaur skull

It is the morning of the June 11. 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 and Ricardo, 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 important, the cooks), arrived at Bentiaba late in the afternoon on June 5. After making camp, Louis had to return to [...]

2012-06-14T20:23:41+00:00 June 12th, 2012|Earth Sciences in Angola|

Banana-dogs for lunch

Graduate students 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.

2012-12-18T17:56:59+00:00 June 6th, 2012|Earth Sciences in Angola|