Sokoto’s giant lizards

While I’m home this time around, instead of moaning about the lack of career opportunities in palaeontology, I have decided to get off my African backside and dig into what bone fossils have been found in Nigeria.

For some reason, I had always thought that there was nothing much of interest here. After all, if there were valuable bones of extinct animals, you would see a lot more palaeontologists digging in fields under this horribly wicked sun we’ve been having. But as with most things these days, I was wrong. We do have cool stuff.

In 1930, a Scottish scientist named William Elgin Swinton found interesting fossils in Sokoto. He identified remains of crocodiles and turtles, tens of millions of years old. Bone fossils from that ancient time in West Africa are rare. For some reason, Sokoto happens to have loads.

The real showstoppers of Swinton’s search were fragments of bone from an enormous extinct creature. Four decades later, Professor Azzaroli led a group of Italian scientists to explore Sokoto and look for more fossils. They found more of these big bones close to the border of Sokoto and Niger (one country, Nigeria or Niger, seriously needs to consider changing its name).

These curious fossils are bones of mosasaurs, gigantic lizards that once swam about in the seas. They reached body lengths of more than three 2018 Toyota Corollas lined up one after the other.

The mosasaurs in Sokoto are not just interesting because of their giganticness. Mosasaurs were sea creatures, so this means that Sokoto was once part of a sea. I know, it’s difficult to imagine given its present-day desert climate. In fact, most of Nigeria was underwater at that time.

Some of these fossils were taken to the Natural History Museum in London while others were left at the Geological Survey of Nigeria Museum in Kaduna.

More mosasaur fossils have been found down south in Calabar, and I’m quite sure many more are left to be discovered.  I just have to get looking.

Image from Wikipedia

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