Numerous recent paleontological expeditions to the island nation of Madagascar have revealed an incredible richness of dinosaur fossils. Most of these are from the Late Cretaceous, when Madagascar was nearly completely separated from other continents. Yet these fossils tell an interesting story, demonstrating that Madagascar was once connected to India and other southern landmasses (known as Gondwana).
But how, and in what order, did these landmasses separate from one another? This has been difficult to determine, but the fossil record may be able to help. Large animals such as dinosaurs cannot cross large bodies of water, but require land connections. If we find very similar dinosaurs in different regions, it may be evidence to support the hypothesis that those regions were once connected.
In Madagascar, however, we needed to look earlier in the Cretaceous Period, during a time when the island was still connected to much of Gondwana. Unfortunately, much of Madagascar was under water during this time, meaning that our chances for finding dinosaur fossils were few. Still, earlier French geological research suggested that there might be one or two areas where land sediments could be found, perhaps with fossils in them.
Armed with this information, Dr. Matthew Carrano led a five-week expedition to northwestern Madagascar from July 17-August 17, 2004. He focused on exploring the medial Cretaceous deposits east of Morondava and south of Mahajanga, sediments laid down between 120 and 90 million years ago. Here they explored areas where few paleontologists had ever been, in the hopes of uncovering some small new detail about the dinosaurs of Madagascar during this time.
Madagascar team members came from three countries: the United States, Madagascar, and South Africa. Five members arrived from outside Madagascar: Dr. Roger Smith (South African Museum, Cape Town), Dr. Christian Sidor (New York College of Osteopathic Medicine), Ms. Robin Whatley (University of California, Santa Barbara), and Mr. Eric Duneman (CHF International). They were joined by three Malagasy participants from the Université d’Antananarivo: Dr. Germain Spiral, Mr. Michel Rakotonimanana, and Mr. Solofo Randrianaboavongy. The expedition was supported by the National Geographic Society.
To view a slideshow and read about their field work experience,