International Dinosaur Discoveries

Early Dinosaur History Outside the United States

When was the most spectacular dinosaur fossil expedition mounted?

The most spectacular dinosaur fossil expedition ever mounted began in 1909 and lasted through 1912. The expedition took place in German East Africa (now Tanzania) around the village of Tendaguru.

In 1907, W.B. Sattler found gigantic fossil bones weathering out of the surface rock as he explored the area around Tendaguru for mineral resources. After Sattler reported his findings, a noted paleontologist, Professor Eberhard Fraas (1862–1915), visited the area and took collected samples back to Germany. There, Dr. W. Branca, the director of the Berlin Museum, realized the importance and scope of the findings and started raising funds for an expedition.

The expedition began in 1909; it was a search larger in scope than anything to date. In the first year, 170 native laborers were employed; in the second year, 400 were used. The third and fourth years saw 500 natives at work on the dig sites, which were located in an area extending almost two miles (three kilometers) between Tendaguru Village and Tendaguru Hill. The laborers were accompanied by their families; thus, the expedition had to accommodate upwards of 700 to 900 people. Additionally, after the fossils were mapped, measured, excavated, and encased in plaster, they had to be hand carried from Tendaguru, in the interior, to Lindi, on the coast—a trek that took four days. There, the enormous number of bones, eventually totaling 250 tons (230 metric tons), were shipped to Germany for preparation, study, and reconstruction.


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