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African Dinosaurs Unearthed
The Tendaguru Expeditions
By Gerhard Maier
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2003 Gerhard Maier
All rights reserved.
Something Curious in the African Bush
Cooling rains were returning to the interior of eastern Africa, repeating a cycle stretching back countless millennia. Soon the parched landscape would turn green with vegetation, and trails in the isolated hinterland would be less easily traveled. Of course, trails were sparse in German East Africa (Deutsch Ostafrika) in 1906, especially in the far south. It was here, in Germany's prized colony on that vast continent, that an object of Bernhard Wilhelm Sattler's curiosity would involve thousands of Africans, as well as Germans and Englishmen, in monumental labors for decades to come.
Sattler, seasoned by long years of experience in Africa, was in charge of a garnet mine operated by the Lindi Prospecting Company (Lindi Schürfgesellschaft). He was traveling to the mine, south of the Mbemkuru River, when he noticed an enormous bone weathering out of the path near the base of a hill. In the language of the local Wamwera people the hill was known as Tendaguru, or "steep hill."
Subsequent accounts, likely apocryphal, relate that Sattler stumbled over this object on the path, and that he had his bearers carry fragments back to the nearest port, Lindi, a four-day march. Whatever the circumstances, he was sufficiently impressed by the great size of the remains that he forwarded a report and sketch to Wilhelm Arning, the director of his firm in Hannover, Germany. Arning, formerly a military surgeon in the colony, appreciated Sattler's conscientiousness. Arning's medical training and Sattler's drafting skills enabled Arning to recognize bones of prodigious size in Sattler's renderings as soon as the report arrived in Germany in early 1907. A chain of events was set into motion with Sattler's recognition of something unusual in the remote African bush. It would connect an ever-growing group of commercial and scientific men who shared a common interest in the state of Germany's overseas colonies.
Arning informed the Commission for the Geographical Investigation of the Protectorates (Kommission fur die landeskundliche Erforschung der Schutzgebiete) in Berlin of Sattler's report. The commission had been established in 1904, at the suggestion of famed geographer Dr. Hans Meyer, who was its current director. Its mandate was to support research in the colonies by dispatching scientific and technical specialists. Meyer was absent when Arning's call for action arrived, and the commission recommended that Sattler should send some of the bones to Germany first. Arning, however, felt that it was irresponsible to encourage unscientific excavation, and continued to pressure the commission.
Germany was a latecomer to the nineteenth-century European competition for colonies. Influential groups quickly organized to lobby the German government in support of colonial development. Like other European nations, Germany sought territory in Africa. Persian and Arab traders had dominated the eastern coast of that vast continent between the ninth and sixteenth centuries a.d. Portuguese merchants enjoyed a period of success there during the sixteenth century. By the eighteenth century, Arab traders again controlled the coastal towns and monopolized the market in spices, slaves, ivory, and other commodities. In 1884, German adventurers, representing an ambitious colonial association, signed treaties with African tribal leaders in the interior. The legitimacy of these treaties may have been questionable, but the association was granted a charter over the newly claimed territory in 1885. Its agents formed a private company to administer the region, setting up coastal trading posts and plantations.
Agreements with Germany's colonial neighbors Portugal and Britain defined new geographic boundaries in East Africa. Inevitably, local Omani Arabs, loyal to the sultan of Zanzibar, resented this interference in their domain and rebelled violently. German chancellor Otto von Bismarck ordered the riots to be suppressed with military force, and reluctantly declared the area a protectorate of the Imperial Government in 1891. As von Bismarck's largest territorial claim in Africa, German East Africa extended over 946,500 square kilometers, an area almost twice the size of Imperial Germany.
Governors, who were often professional soldiers, were appointed to develop a bureaucracy responsible for customs, taxation, postal services, law and order, and other matters. A new currency was introduced and a bank opened. Police and military forces were established and began suppressing the slave trade. Yet the number of men responsible for governing this extensive region was small.
Uprisings and bloody punitive expeditions blighted the ensuing 15 years, as power was consolidated in the hands of Europeans. Military and civil administrative districts were expanded from the narrow coastal strip to the interior. Often only tenuous authority was exercised from widely scattered fortified garrisons. Local administration in the far-flung reaches devolved upon trusted Arabs. Communication was improved when telegraph and telephone lines were strung and the British laid an underwater cable to Zanzibar. Roads, bridges, ferries, and docks were built to upgrade transportation within the colony. Steamers plied the oceans between Africa and Europe. A northern railway was laid down and a central line was begun. Hospitals, schools, rest houses, and a prestigious agricultural research station were built. A meteorological service and veterinary station developed. Newspapers and a brewery were founded. Overseas investment financed plantations where German settlers grew crops that included sisal, cotton, rubber, and coffee. Plantation labor was supplied by the indigenous population.
Although changes were imposed unevenly and at different times within the districts of the protectorate, their impact undoubtedly caused the most radical and far-reaching transformation of East African cultures since the arrival of the Arabs. Brutal excesses characterized the first two decades of Germany's struggle to secure its authority over the country. Events in the homeland were soon to signal a change in approach.
A general election was held in Germany in 1907, with colonial policy a primary issue. Due to a growing number of scandals in its overseas possessions — another savage revolt in German East Africa and the Herero War in German Southwest Africa (Deutsch Südwestafrika, currently Namibia) — opposition parties demanded reform. One result was the establishment of an Imperial Colonial Office that was independent of the Foreign Ministry (Auswärtiges Amt). The secretary of state for the colonies (Staatssekretär des Reichskolonialamts) had authority over the governors of all colonies, who in turn supervised officers of the civilian or military districts.
How the economic development of the colony should proceed was hotly contested in German East Africa in 1907. In this era a range of improvements would be implemented that would allow the colonial power to effectively extract the maximum benefit from the foreign possession. Pressure groups in Germany lobbied the Reichstag to encourage European settlement, arguing that African labor on plantations would drive the colony's economy by providing European markets with new raw materials. German East Africa's governor, Baron Albrecht von Rechenberg, felt that such a policy would only result in further exploitation and alienation of the native population. He advocated cultivation of cash crops by Africans for trade with nations bordering the Indian Ocean.
The exhortations on overseas development delivered by His Excellency Dr. Bernhard Dernburg, secretary of state for the colonies, in January 1907 convinced the commercial councilor (Kommerzienrat) Heinrich Otto, the wealthy owner of a textile plant, to invest in German East Africa. Dernburg was about to leave for Africa, to confer with the governor, tour several districts, and recommend changes, and Otto was to accompany him. Otto and the consul Albert Schwarz, owner of a Stuttgart bank, formed a company to investigate commercial possibilities such as growing cotton, raising cattle, and operating steamships on Lake Victoria. Hoping that his geological expertise would prove useful in identifying coal deposits and valuable minerals, Otto invited Professor Dr. Eberhard Fraas, a Stuttgart paleontologist, to join them as a scientific advisor.
Eberhard Fraas was born in Stuttgart on June 26, 1862. He was the second son of Oskar Fraas, conservator (Konservator) at the geological-paleontological department of the Natural History Collection (Naturalienkabinett) in Stuttgart. In 1899, the institution was renamed the Royal Natural History Collection (Königliche Naturalienkabinett).
Eberhard inherited his father's passion for the earth sciences. The younger Fraas's academic training focused on geology, petrography, mineralogy, paleontology, and zoology. Classes at universities in Leipzig and Munich introduced him to Germany's eminent paleontologists, among them Karl Alfred von Zittel. Fraas received his Ph.D. at Munich in 1886.
Eberhard succeeded his father at the Stuttgart museum in 1894. The title of Professor, with its attendant prestige in German society, was also conferred upon him that year. His enthusiasm for scientific research took him throughout Europe, and then to Egypt in 1897.
In 1901, Fraas visited America at the invitation of Henry Fairfield Osborn. Osborn, curator of the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology at New York's famous American Museum of Natural History, was one of America's preeminent and influential paleontologists, and had once studied German in Fraas's homeland. Fraas was especially enthusiastic about visiting Eastern museums and dinosaur localities in the American West, opportunities of which he had dreamed for years.
After viewing the New York collections, Fraas traveled to Princeton, Washington, Chicago, New Haven, and Ann Arbor. He then rejoined Osborn, and the two men boarded a train to Colorado. From Denver, they made several excursions through the mountains beyond Canon City, and continued to Utah and Wyoming. These western states were the source of a fabulous variety and abundance of Jurassic dinosaurs, whose resting places were visited by Fraas and Osborn.
Fraas was privileged to participate in the American Museum's excavation at Bone Cabin Quarry in Wyoming that year, alongside the crew of Walter Granger, Peter Kaisen, and George Olsen. This tremendously productive locality had been worked annually since its discovery in 1898, and would eventually yield over 81 tonnes of dinosaur remains. According to the AMNH Annual Report of 1901, the best collection to date was removed that year. Fraas reveled in life in the field, where a sleeping bag and raincoat provided the only protection from the elements. He also acquired skills that in later years would prove invaluable, namely expertise in excavating huge fossil remains.
Leaving Osborn, Fraas took part in a "special expedition" of the United States Geological Survey, led by Nelson Horatio Darton. Its members would collect geological information for Osborn's comprehensive monograph, The Titanotheres. Legendary collector John Bell Hatcher of the Carnegie Museum accompanied them to the Oligocene badlands of South Dakota, where they spent at least three grueling weeks. Traveling through the Black Hills by horse and wagon, they encountered quicksand, and Hatcher and Fraas had a narrow escape while crossing a river in flood. Fraas then headed west to Yellowstone Park in Montana, and upon his return to New York, Osborn presented him with sauropod limbs from Wyoming.
In Germany, Eberhard Fraas was awarded the Knight's Cross First Class (Ritterkreuz I Klasse). German Southwest Africa was his destination in 1904, and Egypt in 1906. Eberhard's elder brother Victor secured funding that allowed Eberhard to undertake a lengthy camel trek to the Fayum Oasis, 70 to 80 kilometers southwest of Cairo. He was accompanied by Richard Markgraf, an impoverished fossil collector, who had enriched museum collections in Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Munich, and New York for over a decade. Markgraf had uncovered remarkable specimens in Egypt, including an early Oligocene primate that would lead to a subsequent connection with Walter Granger of the American Museum of Natural History. At the Fayum they found remains of the large herbivorous mammal Arsinoitherium and the early whale Basilosaurus. Now, at Otto's invitation, he was off to East Africa. Wilhelm Arning, hearing that the renowned paleontologist would soon be in Dar es Salaam, placed both Bernhard Sattler and laborers belonging to the Lindi Prospecting Company at his disposal gratis.
Fraas was granted five months' unpaid leave from the Royal Natural History Collection. Otto, Schwarz, and Fraas departed Stuttgart independently of Dernburg, whose party had been delayed, on June 1, 1907. After a stormy passage, they disembarked on June 21 at Dar es Salaam, Arabic for "Haven of Peace." The capital city was growing rapidly at the time of their arrival. Construction of a new railway spurred many changes. An influx of technical staff and their families, along with hordes of laborers, stimulated local businesses. By 1900, it was home to approximately 20,000 people. At the time of Fraas's visit, six or seven hundred were Europeans, out of a total of 2,792 Europeans in the colony.
In the 1860s, the sultan of Zanzibar had established a post at a sheltered East African harbor. The settlement, known as Dar es Salaam, had languished in the humid equatorial heat, and interest shifted north to the rival port of Bagamoyo. German traders in the 1880s became embroiled in a series of rebellions and made little substantial progress. A decade later, the seat of German government was transferred to Dar es Salaam from Bagamoyo. Government buildings were erected and an extensive botanic garden was planted. By the time of Fraas's arrival in 1907, the spires of the Catholic cathedral and the Lutheran church were familiar landmarks for steamers entering the harbor. A lighthouse, a floating dock, and electric cranes allowed heavy cargo to be safely shipped and unloaded. Stationary engines in the rail yards supplied electricity for the town.
Otto, Schwarz, and Fraas probably moved around the capital by rickshaw, the most common form of transport. Horse-drawn carriages were used by only the most senior officials. Greek- and Syrian-run hotels were available for travelers, but the Stuttgart trio likely checked into the Kaiserhof, built the year before and featuring hot and cold water and accommodation for thirty guests. Well laid out streets and comfortable residential dwellings characterized the European district. The original native quarter had shifted to a new location, for which an orderly grid of roads was surveyed. Between these two districts flourished an Indian bazaar, a labyrinth of shops and African dwellings. Otto's group may have purchased provisions here.
Their intention was to leave immediately for Lake Victoria to establish a shipping company. These plans were altered when the governor recommended that they tour the central regions, along the line of railway construction from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro. Otto hoped to establish a cotton plantation in the interior, to provide a reliable supply for his factory in Germany. On June 26,1907, Eberhard Fraas celebrated his 45th birthday, and the group departed Dar es Salaam by rail.
Work on the meter-gauge Central Railway (Mittellandbahn) had begun two years earlier. With the railhead at Dar es Salaam, the line would eventually traverse the country and terminate at Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika, 1,244 kilometers to the west. Trade around the great lake and throughout the interior would therefore have access to an ocean port. In 1907, however, the end of steel was at Ngerengere, 149 kilometers west of Dar es Salaam, and Fraas happily collected fossils en route from Jurassic limestones exposed by the railway cut. An engineer named Kinkelin had gathered ammonite specimens at a stone quarry near Pendambili, at kilometer 128, during the construction of the rail line. Fraas relocated the quarry. At Ngerengere, the travelers went on to experience firsthand the time-honored form of travel in Africa, the safari.
Fraas declared the three-day trek on foot to Morogoro to be a "quite healthy though also strenuous roving life." They reached the town, at the northern foot of the Uluguru Mountains, where Fraas inspected local mica mines. Northwest of Kilossa, Otto became ill and had to be rushed to a nearby mission station, where he remained under care for a week. Returning to the rail line, they reboarded at Ngerengere, and their train rolled back into Dar es Salaam on July 23. What had been envisaged as a week-long excursion had lasted almost a month and had broken the health of one of its participants.
Excerpted from African Dinosaurs Unearthed by Gerhard Maier. Copyright © 2003 Gerhard Maier. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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