Lost and Found, continued
Above, left: Plaster jackets encasing the fossilssome
weighing 800 lbswere lifted using a rickety tripod held
together by a couple of rusty bolts for transport at the end
of the field season. Above, right: Josh Smith and Matt Lamanna brush
debris from a fossil. Left: the film crew moves in for a close-up.
big discoveries came just in time.
The film crew was scheduled to leave soon, for one thing, and at the halfway
point in the field season, youre getting around the time when, if you
find a large animal, youre not going to be able to get the whole thing
out, says Lamanna.
conditions in the oasis varied, but the large sauropod was in some clay
that was pretty tough, Jen Smith recalls. Field workers used spikes and
hammers to chisel away at the ground, splitting open blocks. And the
trick is to split open the block but not the bone. She at least had had
some previous field experience, but by the end they needed every hand
they could get. It was basically, If youre not going to break more than
you find, help out.
a bone is uncovered, field workers clean it and apply a stabilizing chemical
to the rock, then wrap the specimen with aluminum foil. A plaster cast
is then created to protect it during transport. Some of these jackets
weighed as much as 800 pounds, which created a problem when it was time
to load them up at the end of the field season.
hoped-for forklift failed to materialize on the final day. What we ended
up doing was we got a flatbed truck to drive out to the quarry, [and]
our Egyptian colleagues managed to locate this rickety tripod held together
by a couple of rusty bolts, Jen says. Were trying to lift these 800-pound
things, and everybody knows the best way to do it, and theres not the
greatest communication because theres different languages spoken, and
the sun had gone down, the moon was coming up. They had to be on the
road by three in the morning to make a nine a.m. meeting with the director
of the Geological Survey the next day. It was a madhouse, but it got
done and thats what matters.
between the field workers and the film crew were friendlyfor the most
part. We did make extensive use of the landcruisers in throwing rotten
food at each other, driving back and forth between the sites, says Josh.
We had epic fruiting battles, it was fantastic. In one 20-minute skirmish,
were doing like 60 mph across this sandy road and then all of a sudden
we hit this field of boulders! We almost tore the axle out of the thing.
I managed to get the shot off, and then we ran for home. But those are
how our days went, it was a crazy time.
the field work in Egypt, additional filming for the documentary took place
on Penns campus and at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia,
where the bones were stored and analyzed, as well as in Munich and the
Florida Everglades. The latter trip was made because, based on the fossil
evidence, they believe that the Bahariya Oasis 100 million years ago looked
something like the mangrove swamps of the Florida Everglades today.
team was led to the Florida analogue by the fact that lagoonal sediments
were found directly overlying marine sandstones. In a normal coastal
environment, as the sea comes up you normally record a shoreline, in terms
of a beach, so in the stratigraphic sequence youll end up with the marine
sands, the beach, and then the lagoonal deposits and then the terrestrial
deposits on top of that, says Smith. In many places in the oasis weve
got these lagoonal deposits directly comformable with these marine sands.
The usual answer would be that there is a time gapthe beach has eroded
away, leaving lagoonal deposits much younger than the marine sandsbut
in Bahariya, Weve got roots growing from the lagoonal muds into the
marine sands, which only happens in mangrove swamps.
last summer, Josh and Matt also accompanied the film crew to Munich to
fill in Stromers history for the documentary and to search for any additional
evidence that might help in future excavation in Bahariya. It was really
eerie in many ways to open up the drawers of the collections of the museum
and look at the only remaining parts of the collection that werent blown
up, says Josh. We were looking through Stromers diaries to try and
find out what he was thinkingyou know, are there localities that he hasnt
published on that are in his diaries?
far, the diaries havent turned up any additional clues, but researchers
for MPH did make another significant discoverymore than 100 glass-plate
negatives of Stromers specimens. These were things the scientific community
didnt even know existed, says Scott Winters. We were able to very directly
contribute to the body of scientific knowledge by bringing these back
of the photos even showed the partial skeleton of Spinosaurus, mounted
in a glass case in the museum. To my knowledge, nobody realized that
Spinosaurus had actually been mounted, and its weird to be sitting there
looking at it, and its totally gone, says Josh.
researchers also uncovered details of Stromers lifeincluding the good
news that he was not a Nazi sympathizer. We were a little bit afraid
that we were doing this documentary on the work of this ardent Nazi, and
we didnt really think that was a noble thing to do, says Matt Lamanna.
But apparently he was just the oppositewhich made us all breathe a sigh
his cluttered office in the veterinary school, Peter
Dodson reflects on the very fruitful relationship that exists between
Josh Smith and Matt Lamanna. Between the two of them they are really
great dreamers, he says. They sit down and think about the ideal world
and what they would do in that ideal world, and one of the things they
would do is lead a project to an exotic place and really make their mark.
It was just a wonderful coincidence of events that the invitation to go
[to Egypt] and do geology coincided with the place that rated so high
on the wish list.
whose works include many articles and the books The Horned Dinosaurs:
A Natural History and (as editor) Dinosauria, says his own
paleontology, which lean toward small fossilswhat he calls the supporting
cast of charactersnicely complement the interests and strengths of
Matt and Josh, and Im always up to visiting a new terrain and so was
very, very happy to go on the expedition.
his book The Riddle of the Dinosaur, John Noble Wilford notes that
paleontologists have mostly managed to parlay a childhood fascination
with dinosaurs into a professional career. Penns dinosaur hunters are
one of the arrested 12-year-olds, Josh admits cheerfully. I had an uncle
who is a physicist, and about the time I was six he saw this curiosity
or something, and he decided to start working me towards the ways of science.
So the telescopes started, the microscopes, the chemistry setsand the
first book on dinosaurs. It was over. Matt Lamanna remembers being interested
in dinosaursand knowing about Ernst Stromersince my very early childhood,
maybe single digits.
informed his parents he wanted to be a paleontologist when he was 11 (getting
a better response than in your average household, as his father was a
professor of biology at Penn), though an even earlier formative experience
came when he was taken to see Disneys Fantasia by his mother at
six years old. This wonderful scene [of the dinosaurs extinction] made
a great impression on me, of course.
to speculate about the widespread interest in dinosaurs, especially among
the young, he cites use of them to address ideas of extinction, along
with an attraction to dinosaurs immense size for small children, not
to mention the desire to show off beforeand show upones parents by
possessing specialized knowledge that they dont share.
the study of dinosaurs has much to tell all of us, he emphasizes, about
the geology of the time, the geography of the time, very much about the
course of evolution. Pointing to the present-day concerns over the loss
of biodiversity, the study of dinosaurs teaches us a great deal about
the dynamics of biodiversity, changes in biodiversity in time and the
effects of connections and separations among continentsthe effect of
environmental changes that are documented in the fossil record, he adds.
It gives us a great sense of perspective; it gives us a knowledge base
to draw on; and it gives us a sense of humility in that were so concerned
about the events of the last five-10-15-20 years, and here we see the
events of millions and tens of millions and hundreds of millions of yearsand
perhaps realize that our petty little time scales are really quite ephemeral