People of the Green Sahara
The site now known as “Gobero” was first discovered during a 2000 paleontology expedition to Niger being led by Dr. Paul Sereno. The team was out cruising the desert in three Land Rovers at maximum distance from base camp at mid day, knowing that it was urgent that they head back toward camp for safety. Paul urged them on a half mile farther, promising he would turn back after surmounting a low ridge on the horizon. Just before turning back, team member Rudyard Sadlier, who was in Paul's vehicle, spotted some fossil bone. Paul stopped the caravan for a minute, and everyone began to find fossils scattered on the sandy desert floor within yards of the vehicles. But these dark brown fossils were than the dinosaur-age fossils they’d been tracking and collecting by the ton. They belonged to recent species. Rud's bone was an armor plate from a crocodile similar to today's Nile croc. Then another student, David Blackburn, announced with glee that he had just found a fragment from a human skull.
On the hood of one of the Land Rovers, the team assembled in a few minutes bones from a menagerie of animals that told of much wetter times than the hyper-arid parched landscape where they were found—crocs, hippos, fish, and humans. Expedition photographer, Mike Hettwer, had wandered a bit farther from the vehicles, but returned suddenly thrusting his digital camera at us. "That ain't nothing. Look at this. Whole human skeletons. Just over there, lots of them."
We knew instantly we could be standing on the edge of some remarkable archaeological site. Still, we were not fully prepared for what we would see, as we began to explore the low ancient dunes a short distance from the vehicles. Complete skeletons of humans and other vertebrates lay on the desert surface along with stone tools and pottery shards.
It would take another preliminary visit in 2003 and four expeditions (2005, 2006, 2011, 2012) and an international teams of paleontologists, archaeologists, geologists, cartographers, technicians and photographers to piece together the science and the story of the site that more than any other reveals life in the Green Sahara. Now sketched in the pages of National Geographic Magazine (Lost Tribes of the Green Sahara, September, 2008) and in a NGT/PBS Nova Special (Skeletons of the Sahara, September 25, 2013), the significance of the discovery of Gobero is revealed for all to see.
Many thanks to all team members, to associated research colleagues in several countries, to a dedicated lab staff, to expedition photographers and in particular Mike Hettwer, and to the National Geographic Society, National Science Foundation, Whitten-Newman Foundation, and especially to Elizabeth Meyer for their support of the expeditions and research. This project would not have been possible without the generosity and hospitality of the country of Niger, our Niger-ian colleagues and the people living in and around Agadez.