Science | February 13, 2021 1:33 pm

Pandemic Strands Ambitious Plan for Saharan Fossils

The coronavirus put a hold on new discoveries being made in Niger

Sahara :The Valley Of Dinosaurs In Niamey, Niger In December, 2000.
The valley of dinosaurs in Niamey, Niger in December, 2000.
Xavier ROSSI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The country of Niger is home to a number of significant fossil troves spanning multiple eras in the planet’s history. From dinosaur bones to traces of early humans, scientists have discovered a vast array of vitally important artifacts throughout the country — 80% of which is located in the Sahara Desert. But an ambitious effort to excavate 20 tons of dinosaur bones recently hit a snag. As with so many things, the pandemic has disrupted the best-laid plans, and left the fossils in question stranded in the middle of the desert.

A new article by Danielle Paquette at The Washington Post explores the challenges facing the country’s paleontologists as well as the damaging effects of the pandemic on Niger’s tourism industry. Understandably, Niger has used its finds as a draw for tourists; given the last year, however, revenue from museums featuring dinosaur bones has substantially dropped.

As for the 20 tons of bones, they represent a significant find. Paquette writes, “[t]here are flying reptiles. A creature that resembles an armored dog. Eleven species yet to be identified — all with long necks.” It’s considered to be one of the biggest discoveries on the entire continent.

Archaeologist Boubé Adamou told the Post, “This is our cultural identity. But saving the living comes first.”

For now, the sites where he bones were discovered have been covered up — a not uncommon practice in paleontology, though the sites aren’t usually left re-buried for this long. The government has sent security to protect the sites; for now, a long wait continues with promise of significant discoveries in the not-so-distant future.

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