How the Sahara's strangest Stone Age graveyard was uncovered

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Washington, September 22 : The Sahara desert's strangest Stone Age graveyard, which was uncovered in the year 2000 by a small team of paleontologists, had excavated 20 tons of dinosaur bones and other prehistoric animals.

According to a report in National Geographic News, the team, which was led by Paul Sereno of the University of Chicago, scattered on foot across the toffee-colored sands of the Tenere desert in northern Niger.

Referred to as a "desert within a desert", the Tenere desert is a California-size ocean of sand and rock, where a single massive dune might stretch a hundred miles, and the combination of 120-degree heat and inexorable winds can wick the water from a human body in less than a day.

The harsh conditions, combined with intermittent conflict between the Tuareg tribe and the Niger government, have kept the region largely unexplored.

Sereno, a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence and one of the world's most prolific dinosaur hunters, had led his first expedition into the Tenere five years earlier, after negotiating agreements with both the leader of a Tuareg rebel force and the Niger Ministry of Defense, allowing him safe passage to explore its fossil-rich deposits.

That initial foray was followed by others, and each time his team emerged from the desert with the remains of exotic species, including Nigersaurus, a 500-toothed plant-eating dinosaur, and Sarcosuchus, an extinct crocodilian the size of a city bus.

The 2000 expedition, however, was his most ambitious-three months scouring a 300-mile arc of the Tenere, ending near Agadez, a medieval caravan town on the western lip of the desert.

Already, his team members had excavated 20 tons of dinosaur bones and other prehistoric animals.

Mike Hettwer, a photographer accompanying the team, headed off by himself toward a trio of small dunes. He crested the first slope and stared in amazement.

The dunes were spilling over with bones. He took a few shots with his digital camera and hurried back to the Land Rovers.

"I found some bones," Hettwer said, when the team had regrouped. "But they're not dinosaurs. They're human," he added.

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