Fossil Futures


Decolonized Dinosaurs walking into the Museum of Bones
The dinosaur serves as speculative material for renegotiating ideas of extinction and post-humanism, commodification and exoticism as well as the colonial past and presence. Through their mounting in Western museums, the dinosaurs came back into existence in the collective consciousness and are meanwhile serving as a totem animal for modernity, as a dinosaur phantasma.
We were commissioned by the community of Tendaguru in Southern Tanzania to initiate a re-centering, a reclaiming of territories, where over 100 years back German and British colonizers extracted 230 tons of dinosaur bones and put them in European museums. After this act of ‘cultural fracking’ this area today is a disputed territory again, where land grabbing by multinationals lead by the Worldbank and severe displacement of the population started taking place only recently (because of new “discoveries” of resources). The site is regarded as sacred heritage by the community, but also politicians are aware of the relevance of the site as one of the largest sites where dinosaur bones were found in the world. As in the case of the Northern American indigenous Lakota, the communities at Tendaguru knew about the bones but never dug them up. Because to them they were spiritual objects (or gods who created humankind in the case of the Lakota). Some researchers describe the excavations of bones as blatant acts of land appropriation.

In cooperation with the regional government in Lindi and affiliates from the University of Witwatersrand Johannesburg we initiate a transformation of Tendaguru into what is called participatory, self-managed forest reserve to activate the space in situ. Overcome an indigenisation or a romanticized view of technology, immersiveness and nature. The decolonized museum in the Tanzanian bush is an investigative and indigenous narration and re-imagining of a museum. We started to use technology amidst nature, anticipating possible non-anthropocentric futures for non-invasive and multi sensory experiences. The idea is to create new platforms of representation of the subaltern, places of constant negotiation instead of echoing the conventional yet vicious museum and to protect the community and the area from land grabbing threats. Tanzania will thereby create and get one of the early Virtual Reality museums and heritage places and probably the first decolonial and critical one. The museum hence can be visited from all over the world as a VR experience, the indigenous narratives will be spread and told and the revenue from the VR experience goes directly back to the village at stake.




View from Tendaguru Hill, Tanzania.

“The dinosaur can be best understood as the totem animal of modern culture, a creature that unites modern science with mass culture, empirical knowledge with collective fantasy, rational methods with ritual practices.”

W.J.T. Mitchell


Video-Interviews: 1.) Denny Gayton, Standing Rock, North America 2.) Adrienne Mayor, Stanford University, USA 3.) Prof. W.J.T. Mitchell, University of Chicago, USA 4.) Prof. Ciraj Rassool, University of Capetown, South Africa

These interviews are part of an artistic research for the ‚Fossil Futures‘ project by the artist duo Nikolai Nelles and Nora Al-Badri. For them, the dinosaur activates a public dialogue on the meaning of extinction and extraction, also in terms of a “cultural fracking” related to a hierarchies of indigenous knowledge and the role of Western science.The material results from research (funded by Haus der Kulturen der Welt), at the Tendaguru Beds in Tanzania, a former German colony that was the site of systematic excavations of dinosaur bones during the colonial era as well as research conducted in the USA.We were commissioned by the people of Tendaguru in Southern Tanzania, and we call this undertaking „Fossil Futures“, to initiate a re-centering, a reclaiming of territories, which are currently occupied by multinationals and the World Bank directly at Tendaguru and where ,cultural fracking’ took place through German museums. In cooperation with the regional government and affiliates from the University of Witwaterstrand Johannesburg and the community we plan to initiate a transformation of Tendaguru into what is called participatory forest reserve to activate the space in situ and overcome an indigenisation or a romanticized view of technology, immersiveness and nature. The museum in the Tanzanian bush is an investigative narration and re-imagining of a museum rather than an actual institution. Even though the locality and the topos plays a crucial role with regards to re-centering in the postcolonial realm, our aim to use technology amidst nature is to anticipate possible non-anthropocentric futures as an experience to contribute to a collective imaginary through what we call technoheritage. Thus to create new platforms of (re)presentation of the subaltern instead of echoing the conventional yet vicious museum.