By Dr. Maximilian Chami, University of Dar es Salaam and the National Museum of Tanzania

05 June 2023 - 16:30

Life size replica dinosaur cast in the Lindi Region, Tanzania, standing on a roundabout.
Replica dinosaur cast in the Lindi Region, Tanzania. The UNESCO World Heritage Centre has officially included the Tendaguru Palaeontological Site on the UNESCO Tentative List. ©

Lindi Municipal Council

What connects a dinosaur, UNESCO and the British Council’s Cultural Heritage Fund? Dr Maximilian Chami of the University of Dar es Salaam and the National Museum of Tanzania explains all.

Tendaguru in Tanzania is one of the world’s most famous paleontological sites. The first find was discovered in 1906, by German engineer Bernhard Wilhelm Sattler who was in charge of a garnet mine in the region. He was travelling to a mine southwest of the Mbemkuru River when he noticed an enormous bone on the path. His discovery led to decades of investigations in the area. 

Tendaguru received worldwide notice in scientific circles as a result of the German Tendaguru Expedition of 1909 to 1913. At that time the area was part of German East Africa. The expedition is regarded as one of the largest and most significant paleontological expeditions ever to have taken place. 

The largest skeleton found at the site is of the Giraffatitan Brancai, which is about 13 metres high and 23.5 metres long. It is believed to be the biggest dinosaur to have lived in Africa. The skeleton and almost 400 fossil remains, including 80 articulated skeletons, from Tendaguru are stored at the Natural History Museum in Berlin and other German museums. All the fossil vertebrates and invertebrates were recovered from the Tendaguru Formation or Tendaguru Beds, an area that has yielded more than 10,000 specimens. The Tendaguru site is one of the very complex areas found in the southern part of Tanzania under the management of the National Museum of Tanzania.

In December 2021, I was awarded funding from the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund, through the National Museum of Tanzania to develop a five-year (2022-27) management plan for the Tendaguru Site. The area lacked a management plan since it was named a National Heritage Site in 1937 during British colonial rule. The lack of a structured plan has brought challenges to the management of this important area. The main objective of the management plan is to provide a framework and the necessary strategies to ensure that Tendaguru Palaeontological Site (TPS) maintains its Outstanding Universal Value and its status as the richest Late Jurassic strata in Africa. UNESCO defines Outstanding Universal Value as 'cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity.'

To ensure that a comprehensive plan was developed through the Cultural Protection Fund grant, a series of consultative workshops and interviews were held with a diverse range of stakeholders including residents of the eight villages found in the Tendaguru area, Lindi Municipal Council, heritage professionals, government officials, tourism professionals and members of the business community. Other work included identifying and inspecting the state of conservation, values, significance and boundaries of the site.

During these activities, infrastructure development was identified as the priority area for action over the next five to ten years. Tendaguru is in a remote area with poor roads and a lack of facilities on the site. More work is underway to ensure proper presentation and interpretation of the site and to promote tourism at the sites, including the construction of the Tendaguru information centre in the Mkwajuni area and replica dinosaur casts in the Lindi region. Infrastructure projects are currently underway, including improving the road network, and we hope in the next few years the site will be easily accessible to all visitors. 

The UNESCO World Heritage Centre has officially included the Tendaguru Palaeontological Site on the UNESCO Tentative List, as a heritage site of outstanding universal value and suitable for inclusion on the World Heritage List in the near future. Describing the Tendaguru site, UNESCO said: 'TPS contains some of the most important fossil specimens discovered from the 'Age of Dinosaurs' period of Earth’s history. The property formation is considered the richest Late Jurassic strata in Africa'. UNESCO also says the TPS is comparable to the Dinosaur Provincial Park World Heritage Site in the Canadian Badlands. Being on the UNESCO Tentative List will open up more opportunities for the TPS to be granted international assistance in terms of management and conservation.

On behalf of the National Museum of Tanzania, I would like to express our sincere appreciation to the British Council for providing the funding that facilitated the development of the Management Plan of the site for the first time since 1937 and for helping us achieve the nomination of the site in the UNESCO Tentative list.

The British Council's Cultural Protection Fund supports efforts to keep cultural heritage sites and objects safe, as well as the recording, conservation and restoration of heritage. We work in partnership with the UK Government’s Department for Culture, Media & Sport.

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