Dinosaurs of the Bahariya Oasis, Egypt - Page 1 of 3
2003 Grant Recipient
Matthew C. Lamanna, University of Pennsylvania
In January 1911, a German geologist and paleontologist named Ernst Stromer discovered the first dinosaur bones known from Egypt, in a rock unit called the Bahariya Formation in the Bahariya Oasis in the Western Desert. His finds came from sedimentary strata laid down on the southern shore of a large, shallow sea during the Cretaceous Period, and were about 95 million years old. Stromer, and in the following years, his collector Richard Markgraf, went on to discover the bones of several other dinosaurs in the Bahariya Formation. All of the fossils were eventually shipped to Munich, Germany, where Stromer studied them and published his findings between the years 1915 and 1936. Foremost among Stromer's discoveries was the meat-eating dinosaur Spinosaurus, a huge sail-backed predator with 5-foot long, crocodile-like jaws studded with sharp teeth. Spinosaurus was the "villain" of the recent film Jurassic Park III. Stromer also discovered two other giant carnivores, Carcharodontosaurus and Bahariasaurus, which would have resembled Tyrannosaurus rex in general appearance. Many modern paleontologists believe that all three of Stromer's predatory dinosaurs, Spinosaurus, Carcharodontosaurus, and Bahariasaurus, may have been as big or bigger than T. rex. Stromer also named a long-necked plant-eating dinosaur, or sauropod, from the Bahariya Formation, Aegyptosaurus. This animal would have resembled the famous "Brontosaurus" in appearance, but at a length of 14 meters (~45 feet) it was somewhat smaller. Stromer also found evidence of several other dinosaurs in the Bahariya Formation. Tragically, all of Stromer's dinosaurs were destroyed during a British air raid on Munich in April 1944, during World War II. No dinosaur bones were reported from the Bahariya Oasis for over five decades.
In February 1999, my friends Josh and Jen Smith, then graduate students in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Pennsylvania, and Jen's Ph.D. advisor, Robert Giegengack, set aside three days as part of a longer expedition to look for dinosaur bones in the Bahariya Oasis. Against the odds, they found many bones just sitting on the desert floor at several sites around the oasis. Josh brought back photos and coordinates of the sites, and immediately convinced my advisor, Peter Dodson, and I to join the team. Giegengack contacted his colleagues at the Egyptian Geological Survey and Mining Authority in Cairo, and together we negotiated a five-year agreement to cooperate to try and rediscover the dinosaurs of the Bahariya Oasis. Now all we needed was some money for our expedition. Amazingly, a film company, MPH Entertainment, got interested in our project and agreed to fund an expedition in January and February of 2000, in exchange for the rights to film it. We assembled a team of scientists and volunteers and jetted off to Cairo. While there, we purchased supplies and met our colleagues at EGSMA, Yousry Attia, Medhat Said Abdelghani, and Yassir Abdelrazik, for the first time. Together we left Cairo and made the five-hour trip into the Western Desert, to the Bahariya Oasis.
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