student makes dinosaur fossil hunting trip reality for disadvantaged young people
A University of Portsmouth palaeontology student has helped disadvantaged young people in South Africa take part in a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Ben Thomas, 21, from Southsea, began YouTubing when he was 12-years-old about his passion for natural history, evolution and dinosaurs. His channel now has more than half a million subscribers and his videos have been viewed over a 100 million times.
Last year Ben was asked by the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg to use his profile to help raise money for students to carry out fieldwork in the Karoo Basin, as they couldn’t afford to fund this essential part of their degree experience on their own.
Along with his fellow YouTuber Doug James, 21, a history student at the University of Southampton, they were able to raise more than £10,000 for the Therapsid Researchers’ Initiative for African Karoo Study 2021 expedition (THRINAKS) by encouraging their loyal fan bases to donate to the crowdfunding campaign.
The pair were invited to tag along on the month-long trip in August 2021 to document it for a YouTube series so that other students could also benefit.
I understand the frustration of not being able to afford to get out on field trips, so I'm delighted to have been able to help other students who might not get this opportunity at all.
Ben said: “As a palaeontology student myself, I understand the frustration of not being able to afford to get out on field trips, so I'm delighted to have been able to help other students who might not get this opportunity at all.
“It has always been a dream of mine to be part of the team on a real palaeontological expedition and this time I will also be able to share the highs and lows of the whole experience with my YouTube followers.”
The Karoo region’s geology dates back almost 300 million years and has been home to the discovery of new species of dinosaur such as Massospondylus, a six-metre-long sauropod which was a giant herbivorous reptile.
A reconstruction of the Therapsid at the Burke Museum, University of Washington, Seattle USA (photo by Jeremy Thomas)
Dr Julien Benoit, Senior Researcher in Palaeontology at the Evolutionary Studies Institute of Johannesburg, added: “During this field trip into the South African Karoo, the students, as well as Ben and Doug, were taught how to prospect for fossils, excavate, make a plaster jacket, log, map and GPS mark fossils before transporting them back to our collections where they will be stored and catalogued.
“This was a unique opportunity to discover the amazing richness of the Karoo extinct fauna and flora, and learn how much sweat, tears, but also comradery is hidden behind every fossil discovery.”
Ben and Doug James will release the first of a series of six YouTube videos on Sunday (August 14) describing their fossil hunting expedition and revealing some of the significant scientific discoveries made by the expedition members.