Tendaguru, located in the hinterland ofTanzania on the eastern coast of Africa and today monotonously formed of broad plateaus blanketed by dense torn trees and tall grass thick with tse-tse flies, was formerly the site of perhaps the greatest pale-ontological expedition ever assembled, and much - thousands of millennia - before that the place where dinosaurs came to die.
Let's go back to 1907, when Tanzania was part of German East Africa. This was the era of massive western European colonialism in Africa. With the widespread colonialism came scientists. And to then German East Africa came paleontologists in search of fossils.
The fossil wealth ofTendaguru was first discovered in 1907 by an engineer working for the Lindi Prospecting Company (established 1903). Word spread quickly, ultimately to Professor Eberhard Fraas, a vertebrate paleontologist from the Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde in Stuttgart, who happened to be visiting the region. So excited was he at the prospect of collecting dinosaurs after his visit to Tendaguru that he took specimens back to Stuttgart (including what was eventually to be called Janenschia) and more especially started drumming up interest among other German researchers to continue field work in the area.
It was Wilhelm von Branca, director ofthe Humboldt Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, who was the first to seize upon the opportunity presented to him by Fraas. Yet before mounting an expedition ofthe kind demanded by Tendaguru, Branca had to tackle the problem of its financial backing. By seeking support from a great many sources, he received more than 200,000 deutschmarks - a fortune for the time - from the Akademie der Wissenschaften in Berlin, the Gesellschaft Naturforschender Freunde, the city of Berlin, the German Imperial Government, and almost a hundred private citizens.
With money, material, and supplies in hand, the Humboldt Museum expedition set off for Tendaguru in 1909. For the next four field seasons, it was bonanza time. Under the leadership of moustached and jaunty Werner Janensch (Figure B14.7.1) for three of these seasons (Hans Reck took charge in the fourth season), these years were to see possibly the greatest dinosaur collecting effort in the history of paleontology. The first season involved nearly 200 workers, mostly natives, laboring in the hot sun as they dug huge bones out of the ground. During the second season, there were 400 workers and in the third and fourth seasons 500 workers. By the end of the expedition's efforts, some 10 km2 of area was covered with huge pits, attesting to the diligence and hard work of these laborers.
But there's more. Many of these native workers brought their families with them, transforming the dinosaur quarries at Tendaguru into a populous village of upward of 900 people. With all these people, water and food was a severe problem. Not available locally, water had to be brought in, carried on the heads and backs of porters. And with the vast quantities of food that had to be obtained for workers and their families, and the pay for work carried out in the field, it is not surprising that the funds amassed by Branca disappeared at a great rate.
Still, the rewards were great indeed. Over the first three seasons, some 4,300 jackets were carried back to the seaport of Lindi - a four-day walk away and a trip made 5,400 times there and back by native workers, each with the fossils balanced on his or her head - to be shipped from there to Berlin.
Overall, work at Tendaguru involved 225,000 person-days and yielded nearly 100 articulated skeletons and hundreds of isolated bones. When finally unpacked and studied, what a treasure-trove: in addition to ornithischians (Kentrosaurus, Dryosaurus) and theropods (ilaphrosaurus), and a pterosaur as well, the Tendaguru expeditions claimed not only two new kinds of sauropod (Jormern and Dlcraeosaurus), but also new material of Barosaurus and the finest specimen of Brachiosaurus ever found - now mounted and peering into the fourth floor balcony of the Humboldt Museum für Naturkunde.
The Humboldt Museum never went back to Tendaguru after 1912. In 1914, World War I erupted and, with the Treaty of Versailles, German East Africa became British East Africa. This shift in the continuation ofEuropean colonialism brought Brit ish paleontologists to Tendaguru in 1924, under the direction ofW. E. Cutler. This team from the British Museum (Natural History) hoped to enlarge the quarried area and retrieve some ofthe left-over spoils from the German effort. From 1924 to 1929, the British expedition had its ups and downs, finding more ofthe kinds of dinosaurs discovered earlier, but suffering some severe health problems including malaria, from which Cutler died in 1925. There has been no significant paleonto-logical effort at Tendagaru since.
While modern research on dinosaur metabolism has lost some of its contentiousness, it continues apace. Areas of study proving to provide important insights are dinosaur developmental biology as tracked through histology, and stable isotope geochemistry.
Was this article helpful?