Paul Sereno knows his way around dirt: the National Geographic explorer-in-residence has unearthed dinosaurs on five continents over the past 20 years. Today, National Geographic announced his latest discovery.
While looking for dinosaur bones in Sahara in northern Niger, Sereno's team stumbled across a Stone Age graveyard dating back to a time when the desert was green (read the news story from National Geographic News and the feature story in the September issue of Natinal Geographic). The findings include at least 200 human burials from two distinct time periods, as well as bones belonging to fish, hippos, and crocodiles that once inhabited a long-vanished lake. If Sereno's previous in-country finds—such as the 500-toothed plant-eating Nigersaurus and the "SuperCoc" Sarcosuchus—weren't enough, this one is a great reminder to us all that the Age of Exploration is far from over.
Below, we've included an excerpt from our premiere issue to gain a bit of insight into Sereno's thoughts on adventure and why exploration is still relevant today.
From National Geographic ADVENTURE, Spring 1999, "Explorers For the Millenium," Text by Paul Scott
There’s an idea alive in the land that the Age of Exploration is over: Just glance at the globe! All the blank spots have been mapped! Take a bow, Exploration—and get off the stage. To which we say: Hogwash. Yes—the world has been topo’d off, by all manner of surveyors and satellites. And as the youngest progeny of the National Geographic Society, which has supported groundbreaking, map-filling exploration since 1888, we’re thrilled at all the success our efforts (among others) have wrought.
But here’s the thing: The NGS has a much broader definition of “exploration” than the simplistic “finding new places,” and so do we—and that’s where the been-there/done-that millennial ennui peddlers are indulging in Magoo-like myopia.
Explorers at the millennium just need to be more creative. They need to redefine the nature of exploration itself, casting it, for instance, not as a straightforward search for unknown landscape, but as an emergency investigation of the disappearing species and cultures that live upon it. As a dig for the bones of undiscovered dinosaurs below it. As a slightly quixotic quest for the precise height of the world’s tallest mountains. As a treacherous slog through deep, unmapped, toxic-fume-filled caverns. As an inventory of the world at the bottom of the ocean.
To prove our point, we’ve chosen to spotlight seven explorers who have had the creative vision and the audacious curiosity to be unstymied by the notion that it’s all been done. And because of the human inclination to worship at the altar of First, these explorers, who tend to pursue subtler objectives, understand the need to cultivate their own celebrity, to build a buzz, just to avoid becoming trees falling in the silent (denuded) forest. We applaud them for that. And we’re happy to help.
Paul Sereno: Dinosaur-bone digger; University of Chicago paleontologist; theorist on the evolution of dinosaurs
“Adventure for me means seeking to reveal the unknown and experiencing the trials and tribulations of getting to remote areas and coming."
Sereno won a National Geographic Society grant in 1984 that helped fund an eight-month, round-the-world journey to photograph and study previously unseen dinosaur fossils, arranging them in an evolutionary family tree. In 1988 and 1991, he undertook digs in Argentina to learn how dinosaurs came to dominate. In Niger he unearthed a previously unknown species, which he named Afrovenator. Sereno is single-minded in his pursuit of discovery. He once moved six tons of 100-million-year-old bones across the Sahara despite armed guards, death threats to foreigners, and political instability. “You go into town,” he says, “and you say, ‘Look, we have to move something heavy.’ You don’t isolate yourself. That, and you learn French.”
Read about six more explorers >>
Plus: Enter to win a trip to this year's Adventurer of the Year Awards at the National Geograhic Headquarters. Enter now >>