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Aug. 10, 2000 Press Contact: Steve Koppes
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University of Chicago dinosaur hunters to launch Sahara expedition

Field updates to be available online via Project Exploration

University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno today will announce plans to continue his quest for new dinosaur discoveries in the broiling sands of the Sahara Desert this fall. Members of the public will be able to follow his team’s progress online via “Dinosaur Expedition 2000,” a Web site that will launch Aug. 13, the day Sereno and the expedition team depart for Africa. The site will be available via

“The areas we’re going into are not only interesting, they’re brand new,” said Sereno, a National Geographic Society Explorer-In-Residence who led successful dinosaur-hunting expeditions to Africa in 1993, 1995 and 1997. “These places have never been explored at all before. We’re very excited about it.”

The four-month expedition is sponsored by the National Geographic Society and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation. The “Dinosaur Expedition 2000” online expedition is sponsored by Project Exploration with support from the National Geographic Education Foundation, the John and Margaret Hettwer Foundation and the Illinois State Board of Education. Co-founded by Sereno and his wife, educator Gabrielle Lyon, Project Exploration is a not-for-profit science education organization dedicated to making paleontology and natural science accessible to city kids.

Temperatures are expected to top 120 degrees during the expedition, when Sereno’s 14-person team will crisscross northern Niger and explore dinosaur beds ranging in age from 135 million to 90 million years old. The team’s first stop will be in an area with 110-million-year-old sediments, where the team will pursue more complete remains of Nigersaurus, a bizarre long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur Sereno discovered during the 1997 expedition to Niger.

Nigersaurus is one of the strangest dinosaurs ever found because of the unusual shape of its jaw and the great number of teeth it had,” Sereno said. “The animal had about 600 teeth packed into its jaws.”

The expedition’s ambitious itinerary includes a visit to the area where, in 1997, Sereno excavated skeletons of the long-necked Jobaria, an ancient lineage that survived and flourished only in Africa. Jobaria was the centerpiece of the “Dinosaur Giants” exhibit at Chicago’s Navy Pier last spring.

One of the team’s last stops will be in the 90-million-year-old beds of remote northern Niger that correspond to the layer where, in 1995, Sereno’s team uncovered Deltadromeus, a new 30-foot long predator, and the first skull of the Tyrannosaurus-sized meat-eater, Carcharodontosaurus.

It normally takes months or years for the details of Sereno’s expeditions to become widely known, but Project Exploration will change all that during this expedition.

“Dinosaur Expedition 2000 will let people witness cutting-edge science in the making and learn about dinosaur discoveries as they happen,” said Lyon, vice president of Project Exploration and a veteran expedition member. “We’ll also be corresponding online and via regular mail with students in more than 30 classrooms around Illinois. It’s a unique way to make science accessible and connect kids with real-life science.”

Sereno’s expedition will mark the return of three dinosaur discoveries to Niger, where they will go on display at the National Museum in Niamey, the capital city. The team will return to Niger the original fossils of Afrovenator, a 27-foot-long predator discovered during Sereno’s 1993 expedition, along with cast skeletons of Suchomimus and Jobaria.

Suchomimus, an enormous predatory dinosaur with a skull similar to a crocodile’s, was discovered in 1997. The only other skeleton of Suchomimus is on display at the Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier. Afrovenator is a 27-foot-long predator discovered during Sereno’s 1993 expedition to Niger.

“Niger has some of the richest fossil beds in the world, on par with the Gobi Desert in Mongolia or Dinosaur Provincial Park in Canada, and we can’t wait to get back,” Lyon said.

The expedition team members includes five University of Chicago paleontology students: David Blackburn, a fourth-year undergraduate from Chicago; Allison Beck, a graduate student from Memphis, Tenn.; Jack Conrad, a graduate student from Hurley, Mo.; Hans Larsson, a graduating Ph.D. student from rural Cobourg, Ontario, Canada; and Christian Sidor, a graduating Ph.D. student from West Hartford, Conn.

Also on the team are Rudyard Sadlier, an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, Chicago; Greg Wilson, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley; Eric Duneman, a technician in Sereno’s laboratory; Dr. Tim Lyman, Medical Director of Urgent Care, West Suburban Health Care in Oak Park, Ill.; photographer Mike Hettwer of Chicago; and paleontologists Bourahima Moussa of Niger and Didier Dutheil of France.

West Suburban Heath Care of Oak Park, Ill., is the sole provider of medical equipment and supplies for the expedition.
Last modified at 04:21 PM CST on Thursday, August 10, 2000.

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