Written by Steve Edwards, Musango Safari Camp
On the 6th January 2017, a team of scientists, geologists, paleontologists, and amateur fossil hunters converged on Lake Kariba to look for ancient remains of a unique dinosaur.
Lake Kariba, the largest man-made lake in the world by volume, measuring 280 km long and 40 km wide when full, offers 2000 km of rugged wave-beaten shoreline, and thus the possibility of fossils.
We boarded a houseboat which was to become our base for the next ten days and started our search for the elusive Vulcanodon Karibiensis, a dinosaur that is unique to Kariba.
Model of Vulcanodon in JuraPark, Solec Kujawski, Poland – Bardrock
About Vulcanodon Karibiensis
Vulcanodon, meaning “volcano tooth”, is an extinct genus of sauropod dinosaur from the Early Jurassic of southern Africa. It was initially discovered in 1969 by a Kariba resident, Mr. B.A. Gibson, and is still one of the most primitive sauropods that has ever been discovered. The Vulcanodon Karibiensis measured approximately 6.5m (20ft) in length and are known from a fragmentary skeleton including much of the pelvic girdle, hind limbs, forearms, and tail, but lacking the trunk and neck vertebrae as well as the skull.
Vulcanodon / man size comparison
The survey proved very successful and many fossils of a variety of dinosaurs were located, including those of Vulcanodon. Samples taken still have to be identified but excitement prevails as the possibility of finding a new to science dinosaur looms high.
On the 16th January, the team sailed back to Kariba exhausted but jubilant and excited and proved beyond doubt that there is potential for continued fossil surveys of Kariba’s shoreline.
The collaborative field project in 2017 and 2018 between National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe, the University of the Witwatersrand, and the Natural History Museum, London resulted in the first systematic palaeontological and stratigraphic review of the southern margin of Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe in over 40 years.
We identified nine new fossiliferous sites that harbour the potential to reveal new insights into the biodiversity of Gondwana during the Triassic–Jurassic interval. Investigations into the Pebbly Arkose unit and Forest Sandstone identified typical early dinosaurian faunas consisting largely of sauropodomorphs. However, in the lower Pebbly Arkose, dinosaurs are absent and instead a largely aquatic vertebrate assemblage is present, which includes the first known phytosaur material from Sub-Saharan Africa and a rich fossil wood flora (various sites in Matusadona National Park).
Stratigraphic and palaeontological data gathered on this trip provide new evidence of how the sediments within the Mid-Zambesi Basin correlate with those in the main Karoo Basin, and more broadly with other Upper Triassic and Lower Jurassic strata. It also potentially provides insights into climate belt shifts cross the Triassic-Jurassic Boundary, which may have acted as a biogeographic barrier for some vertebrate taxa.
The last day of the survey produced what may be the first known fossil material of a yet to be classified species – we wait with baited breath!