The Niger Sauropod Project
In 1988, a joint Natural History Museum / Kingston University expedition to Niger, Africa, collected a partial sauropod dinosaur skeleton that had been exposed at the surface.
[Sauropods are mostly large, quadrupedal herbivores with long necks counterbalanced by a long tail. This group includes dinosaurs like Diplodocus, who has pride of place in the NHM’s main hall.]
The specimen was collected from the Agadez region of Niger and is particularly interesting as the fossils from this region date back to the mid-Cretaceous, a time from which sauropod dinosaurs are not well known, thereby filling an important gap in this group’s history.
Preparation began on the specimen in 1989, and a single large femur was part-prepared for display in a temporary exhibition. However, the same year changing priorities meant that the project was shelved, and the specimen- which consists of more than 100 bones- has lain mostly untouched until now.
The project was re-started in November, 2011, spearheaded by fossil preparator Mark Graham. Mark initially took on a team of four volunteers to work on the project- Nick Loughlin, Erica Read, Kieran Miles and Rose John.
Preparing this specimen will achieve a dual purpose- not only is the fully prepared material wanted for research, but in addition the newly removed and boxed bones will free up valuable storage space, and reduce the backlog of fossils awaiting preparation.
Under Mark’s tutelage and guidance, we have been methodically working through the plaster-wrapped bones. Typically, the work proceeds as follows:
- Photograph the plaster-jacketed specimen or record the specimen number somewhere safe.
- Carefully remove the plaster jacket using appropriate cutting tools- scalpels, scissors, Stanley knives etc. In cases where the specimen is fragile, damaged etc, half of the jacket is left on to provide support.
- Photograph the unwrapped specimen to show its condition.
- Carefully remove loose matrix and PVA glue layer with various manual tools- scalpel, tweezers, modelling knife, dental picks etc.
- Harder rock matrix can be removed with air-powered tools and grinders.
- Along the way loose or fragile bone is stabilised and consolidated with adhesives and other supportive methods.
- Major breakages are repaired with stronger adhesives.
- Large gaps or cracks in the specimen are filled in with filling agents.
- A supportive base is constructed for the specimen to rest on.
- The specimen is labelled and photographed.
- It can then be put in storage where it will await the attention of the researchers.