Fossils and first impressions
Nelson Ernesto Nhamutole, the curator of the paleontological laboratory in Maputo, talks about common aspects in Mozambique about Germans, and why he brought over 250 million year old fossils from his home country.
Nelson Ernesto Nhamutole had doubts about coming to Germany. For three months, the 33-year-old Mozambican works at the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart. The residency of the curator of the paleontological laboratory in Maputo was funded by the Rave Scholarship of ifa. In the interview he talks about common aspects in Mozambique about Germans and why he brought over 250-million-year-old fossils from his home country.
Preparing fossils and examining objects that are millions of years old – you are working in a quite uncommon field. Why did you decide to study geology?
That's a tough question. I love the environment, I love science, I love the nature. Combining these three things pushed me into geology. As a geologist, you can work in different fields and I wanted to work as a palaeontologist, because I'm interested in the changes of the environment over time, of different landscapes and in the evolution of species.
What do you do as the curator of Mozambiques' first paleontological laboratory?
Well, since 2015 I am working as a geologist and as the curator of the paleontological laboratory. The laboratory was founded in 2015 and it belongs to the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy of Mozambique. As curator I teach other students and other people how to prepare fossils and how to make exhibitions using our fossil materials. I also give lectures in universities, because paleontological work is a new field in Mozambique. Therefore it's important to motivate people. Moreover, the laboratory needs people who know something about this kind of work. We need people who are motivated to work with us. The laboratory is not that big at the moment. We are two persons working there as employees and we receive interns from universities and schools.
You have been part of the paleontological laboratory from the very beginning. What was the biggest challenge for you?
Building the lab was a big dream of mine and I was striving for it to happen. But it was really difficult to convince the people and to convince our government to support the project. The people where wondering: What is this? Will it be good for our students? Will it be good for our society? Will it be good for Mozambique? It was a long challenging process but luckily it worked out.
Maputo is over 13,000 kilometres away from Stuttgart, where you are now working at the Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History. Your stay is supported by the Rave Scholarship. How did you hear of this possibility?
Through Google! I often think I should learn and do more. I appreciate every chance to improve my knowledge. So I searched on the internet, trying to find an appropriate scholarship. I remember that day that I found the Rave Scholarship. I got happy due to the fact that it was exactly what I was looking for. I told my director and our Portuguese collaborator about it. Both said to me: Go for it!
While you are at the Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History, you are working on something you brought all the way with you from Mozambique.
Yes, I brought six fossils from Mozambique with me: Five fossil woods and one vertebrate fossil. They are from the Upper Permian period so they are over 250 million years old. I am working on them here in Stuttgart with my supervisors. In our lab, preparing samples is a time consuming process aiming to expose features from rocks, bones, fossil woods and other materials. After some time, we realised that we have time left. So our collaborator in Portugal sent to Stuttgart additional fossil wood samples in order to carry on with the preparation.
You have been in Stuttgart for more than two months now. Do you remember how you felt before flying to Germany?
I was really afraid of coming to Germany. In Mozambique most of the people told me, that Germans are not friendly when I said that I wanted to go to Germany and work there. This a common prejudice in Mozambique. And I thought: Okay, I have no choice, I need to go to Germany to gain more experience and more knowledge in paleontological preparation. So, I was very scared. But if you ask me now, I can tell you that I was wrong. My first impression of Germany is really positive. I haven't met any racist here. People are friendly and open and if I need help, I ask people on the street and in case they speak English, they always help me.
What is the most significant difference between Stuttgart and Maputo?
Stuttgart is really different compared to my country, but it's a beautiful city, especially with all the different museums. But what is most striking for me about Germany is that the German government places more importance on protecting heritage. In Africa it's different: We have to fight a lot to convince our people that we need to protect our heritage, that we have to protect sights and that we should build up great museums. The commitment of the German government is noteworthy.