Tripoli, 23 February 2013:
A team from an American museum has discovered exciting new fossils at the Zallah oasis, including Africa’s oldest carnivore, a predecessor to the modern-day lion.
“We found a wonderful new location, unknown to scholars, that offers us a unique window on the past,” American palaeontologist Christopher Beard told USA Today.
Ignoring the current US government warning against all but essential travel to the country, Beard, from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, organised the expedition with geologist Mustafa Salem from the University of Tripoli. The group of American and Libyan scientists made their discoveries on an outcrop of fossils at the oasis.
The petrified remains the team found at Zallah, which was once located on the coast, date back more than 28 million years, making it one of the oldest fossil sites in Africa. Beard described it as “a spectacular place to look at evolution,” where further evidence was found of what are termed “aspirational apes,” simian predecessors to monkeys and human beings.
Beard said that in Libya there is “tremendous interest” in further collaborative projects of this kind. He said that most Libyans, including scientists, wanted “lives that are part of the wider world.”
For his earlier expedition in 2010 it apparently took Beard three years to arrange a visa. This time, he said, all it took was one letter of invitation and permission from the Libyan oil company Zueitina “to explore near one of their facilities.” Zueitina was very supportive, providing internal flights, accommodation and armed trucks to escort the scientists to the oasis.
While the team from Pittsburgh gained access to this Saharan site, other archaeological teams are desperately waiting for security to stabilise so they can return to their fieldwork.
Teams from Britain and Italy are being prevented from resuming their excavations because, with the current security situation, universities cannot get insurance for their archeologists to work in Libya. [/restrict]