Lost and Found, continued
Left: Excavating like fiends in between sandstorms and
bouts of food poisoning, field workers amassed five and a half tons
of bones for shipment back to Philadelphia. Below: Matt Lamanna with
Paralititan humerus after excavation.
The team arrived
in Egypt on January 11, 2000. After a few days in Cairo, they drove to
Bawiti, the largest town in the oasis, and set up their headquarters at
the El Beshmo Lodge. Logistically, it was one of the cushiest situations
Ive ever been in, says Peter Dodson. While Bawiti was a very primitive
lifestyle, with almost nothing to please the eye, the El Beshmo was very,
Smith also retains fond memories of the place. We had relatively hot
showers almost every day, toilets that flushed, and rooms with tile floors.
And somebody cooked us food. For fieldwork in a third-world country [that]
is really good. Normally we work based out of a mudbrick hut with a dirt
floor and a pit toilet and theres no running water. Thats what Im used
the work environment itself was far from cushy. For the first few weeks,
we froze our butts off, Josh Smith says. Daytime temperatures ranged
in the high 30s-low 40s with serious winds, before rising to 85-90 degrees
by the end of the season. And then there were the sandstormsthree of
them in the space of two weeks.
deserts a pretty unforgiving place. And we took some people that didnt
have a lot of field experience along with us. It was sort of a baptism
by fire. The film crew had a really rough time with it, Josh says. Then
one night, right after one of the sandstorms, right before one of the
other ones, everyone got food poisoning. So we had people down from
FP and sand-related problems and then morale went right through the floor.
And this is before we really found anything.
we explored, we actually found sites that we believe to be some of Stromers
original sites, says Lamanna. We found what are very obviously excavation
pits that had been filled in with sand blown in by the wind, in some cases
burlap which, soaked in plaster, was wrapped around fossils for protection
during transport, and even in one case a little scrap of newsprint with
German writing on it.
not much in the way of fossils. For a time, it seemed that the charmed
project had run out of luck.
the beginning, everyone was just very, very excited, and what we found
quickly was that bones on the surface didnt always mean that theres
a whole skeleton waiting to be found, Jen Smith says. In most climates,
dinosaur fossils are found enclosed in soft sediments. In a desert environment,
though, the wind blows the soft sediment away, but cant move the bones,
so they collect on the surface. A bone may have come out of a level that
was 10 feet above the present surface and everything else is gone, she
says. You see these bones on the surface and go, Thats great, and
then you dig and theres nothing. For the first week or so, until we realized
that this was the pattern and not the exception, people would be calling
in on the walkie-talkies, Hey, we found something! and everybody would
rush over and start digging and there would be nothing.
wasnt until January 27 that the team returned to the first sitewhere
Josh, hanging from the landcruiser, had seen the dinosaur boneand made
the projects biggest single discovery to date. We didnt go back [sooner]
because it was one of the least impressive sites we found just to look
at, Josh explains. All these other places had bones littering the ground.
We thought theyd be much more productive sites, and they turned out to
the bones on the surface were all that had been left at other sites, when
they started to dig this time they found much more, including one entire
humerus (upper arm bone) that measured 67 inches and part of another.
By the end of the season, they had excavated about a quarter of the skeleton
of what appeared to be a newand very largegenus of dinosaur.
this discovery, We hit paydirt along the likes of which most people go
their entire careers without, Josh says, a mix of excitement and incredulity
still in his voice months later. The probability of this actually happening
was almost nothing. I still cant believe it. The number of coincidences
that lined up to allow me to find this skeleton are almost enough to make
me believe in a higher power. Its astonishing.
(theres that word again), on the same day that the team returned to the
sauropod site and found the skeleton, Matt Lamanna made the seasons other
major find. About a half-mile from the sauropod site, Matt was leading
two other field workers on a hike through the hills. He recalls hearing
Joshs voice crackle over the walkie-talkie, calling the teams back, and
then noticing patches of sediment that looked like dinosaur skin, but
it wasnt, and then I looked down and I saw tons of fossilized bone everywhere.
There were pieces of turtle shell, fish jaws, parts of dinosaurs. And
all the stuff was very well-preserved. It was the first occasion that
we had collected well-preserved stuff from Bahariya. Such non-dinosaur
material is invaluable in determining the environment in which dinosaurs
lived and the other animals and plants they shared it with, says Lamanna,
who named the area Jons Birthday Site, in honor of his brother, born
on January 27.
the fossil record of North America was fleshed out in an explosion of
excavation in the late-1800sfueled in large part by the bone wars between
rival paleontologists Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Copethe
record of other continents is pretty poor, by comparison, Lamanna adds.
There are entire chunks of millions and millions of years that we have
absolutely no evidence of what the fauna or flora were like. Dinosaurs
of the late Cretaceous period in Africathe time represented by the Bahariya
Formationare almost totally unknown.