The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt

Overview

The date is January 11, 1911. A young German paleontologist, accompanied only by a guide, a cook, four camels, and a couple of camel drivers, reaches the lip of the vast Bahariya Depression after a long trek across the bleak plateau of the western desert of Egypt. The scientist, Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach, hopes to find fossil evidence of early mammals. In this, he will be disappointed, for the rocks here will prove to be much older than he thinks. They are nearly a hundred million years old. Stromer ...
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Overview

The date is January 11, 1911. A young German paleontologist, accompanied only by a guide, a cook, four camels, and a couple of camel drivers, reaches the lip of the vast Bahariya Depression after a long trek across the bleak plateau of the western desert of Egypt. The scientist, Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach, hopes to find fossil evidence of early mammals. In this, he will be disappointed, for the rocks here will prove to be much older than he thinks. They are nearly a hundred million years old. Stromer is about to learn that he has walked into the age of the dinosaurs.

At the bottom of the Bahariya Depression, Stromer will find the remains of four immense and entirely new dinosaurs, along with dozens of other unique specimens. But there will be reversals—shipments delayed for years by war, fossils shattered in transit, stunning personal and professional setbacks. Then, in a single cataclysmic night, all of his work will be destroyed and Ernst Stromer will slip into history and be forgotten.

The date is January 11, 2000—eighty-nine years to the day after Stromer descended into Bahariya. Another young paleontologist, Ameri-can graduate student Josh Smith, has brought a team of fellow scientists to Egypt to find Stromer’ s dinosaur graveyard and resurrect the German pioneer’s legacy. After weeks of digging, often under appalling conditions, they fail utterly at rediscovering any of Stromer’ s dinosaur species.

Then, just when they are about to declare defeat, Smith’s team discovers a dinosaur of such staggering immensity that it will stun the world of paleontology and make headlines around the globe.

Masterfully weaving together history, science, and human drama, The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt is the gripping account of not one but two of the twentieth century’s great expeditions of discovery.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
This book chronicles two expeditions separated by 89 years. When paleontology grad student Josh Smith learned that among the many casualties of World War II was a stash of Egyptian dinosaur fossils unearthed by a German researcher in 1911, he became determined to visit the site and was rewarded with some spectacular discoveries. This book, co-written by Ghosts of Everest author William Northdurft, presents this engrossing history of dinosaurs lost and found.
Publishers Weekly
Between 1910 and 1914, Ernst Stromer, a little-known German paleontologist and explorer, unearthed a wealth of dinosaur fossils in Egypt's Bahariya Oasis. Thirty years later, Stromer's discoveries were destroyed in a WWII Allied bombing raid, and the oasis lay neglected for decades until Josh Smith, a Penn State doctoral candidate in paleontology, decided to retrace Stromer's footsteps in 1999. Based on Stromer's detailed but rather dry journal entries and vivid, often humorous, testimonies from Smith and his research team, this lucid account highlights Stromer's discoveries (which include, among others, the bones of three predatory dinosaurs) and chronicles recent findings by Smith and his colleagues that set the science world buzzing. When Smith's entourage arrived in Bahariya after months of negotiating with MPH Entertainment, their primary financial supporter, and Egyptian officials, they were amazed to find fossils literally "floating" on the dry, sand-packed surface. Weeks later, the team uncovered its landmark find a 67-inch humerus, or upper arm bone, belonging to a new genus of dinosaur, which measured an impressive 80 to 100 feet in length and weighed between 65 and 70 tons. This discovery was compounded by the newsworthy conclusion made by field geologist Ken Lacovara that millions of years ago Egypt's western desert looked much like Florida's Everglades do now. Nothdurft, coauthor of the Ghosts of Everest, gracefully interweaves the team's exploits with Stromer's own Bahariya experiences and provides just enough scientific background to keep lay readers afloat. An engaging mix of history and desert drama, this Indiana Jones-type adventure is first-rate popular science. (Sept. 3) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1944 a Royal Air Force bombing raid destroyed the museum at the Alte Akademie in Munich, Germany. Lost in the flames was a collection of dinosaur bones that had been found between 1910 and 1914 in the remote Western Desert of Egypt by a German baron, Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach. It was not until 90 years after the original discovery that Smith, an American graduate student, pulled together a team of geologists and paleontologists to rediscover Stromer's lost dinosaurs. Remarkably, the team located the original fossil quarries and began to investigate a mystery that Stromer had never solved: what were the Egyptian dinosaurs eating? Written with Smith's input, this narrative by Northdurft, coauthor of Ghosts of Everest, alternates the discoveries of the modern expedition with the history of Stromer's expeditions and the sabotage of his scientific career by the Nazis. The story is told competently but somehow lacks a dramatic sense of the detective work it took to relocate the site and reconstruct lost information from the clues left behind. Still, this title is unique because the site hasn't been written up elsewhere in the popular literature. For larger general science collections.-Amy Brunvand, Univ. of Utah Lib., Salt Lake City Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
German paleontologist Ernst Frieherr Stromer von Reichenbach first sighted them in 1911, identified four new species, collected fossils, and deposited them in a Munich museum where they were destroyed by bombing during World War II. US graduate student Josh Smith (now paleontology, Washington U.) led a team back to Egypt in 2000 to continue the work. Science writer tells the story in a companion to a television documentary. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
Kirkus Reviews
A mildly captivating but ultimately scattered account of the vicissitudes of fossil hunting. The major problem is that this was apparently written by committee. Adventure writer Nothdurft (The Ghosts of Everest, not reviewed, etc.) gives credit to no fewer than five coauthors: three graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania, one assistant professor at nearby Drexel University, and one "fossil preparator" at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. All five were principal members of the Bahariya Dinosaur Project, which in 1999 set out to follow in the footsteps of long-forgotten German aristocrat and scientist Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbch whose pre-WWI explorations of the Bahariya Oasis in Egypt's Western Desert yielded the first fossils of huge sauropods in what was once a lush mangrove forest. Unfortunately, the unfocused text reads less like an account of the team's collaboration than a meticulous accounting of their tiresome confabulations. The authors try to do two things at once, neither of them well. They open the German part of the story confusingly with an excessively long escription of the 1944 RAF mission that destroyed (purely as a matter of collateral damage) the Munich museum containing the bones from Bahariya, then circle back to chronicle Stromer's expedition. The second narrative, of the contemporary scientific team who set out to restore Stromer's legacy and register their own contributions, is even more diffuse. Slangy, not to say spacey, observations like those from fossil lab head Jason Poole ("it was like Bahariya was playing games with us") or geologist Jennifer Smith ("these dinosaur guys . . . go up and down like they're on a rollercoaster") do nothing to advance the reader's understanding. If this were a term paper, which is about the length of the material here, the committee might rightly be accused of padding it. Despite a lot of gravy and garnishes, there's not much here but the bones.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553755480
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/24/2002
  • Format: MP3
  • Edition description: Abridged
  • Ships to U.S.and APO/FPO addresses only.

Meet the Author

William Nothdurft is the author, coauthor, or ghostwriter of nearly a dozen books, including the award-winning Ghosts of Everest, about the search for the missing mountaineers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine. Josh Smith served six years in the U.S. Army before getting his B.Sc. from the University of Massachusetts and an M.Sc. and Ph.D. in paleontology from the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently an assistant professor at Washington...
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
Reaping the Whirlwind

The second extinction of the dinosaurs from the Bahariya Oasis began shortly after midnight. It came from the sky. It began with a barely discernible disturbance in the air, a distant rumble that insinuated itself into the quiet of the night and quickly grew in intensity to a deafening roar. Then, suddenly, the sound became sight and the dark became light as the sky itself became fire. Moments later the roaring was punctuated by a stunning explosion that shattered the still night air. Then another. Then dozens more, until the earth shook and the ground split. Almost immediately, the sound and light became smell-the smell of burning, the singed stink of death. Screams rent the night, and soon the living became the dead.

There have been roughly a dozen mass extinctions during the history of life on Earth, five of them so severe and all-encompassing that they killed off vast numbers of living things. One was so catastrophic that it came close to ending life altogether. Indeed, all of the species alive today represent only 1 percent of all the life that has ever lived during the Earth's history. The other 99 percent have long since perished.1 By far the worst of the mass extinctions occurred an estimated 245 million years ago and took several million years to run its course. But though it was gradual, it was also exceptionally deadly. Scientists believe fully 95 percent of all the forms of plant and animal life in the seas at that time were likely eliminated. Though the cause is still hotly debated, many scientists believe that the consolidation of all of the continents then in existence into a single landmass-called Pangaea-caused sea levels to fall, the land to heat, and the ocean to stagnate. In this scenario, carbon dioxide levels rose, the heat increased, oxygen levels in the ocean plummeted. Slowly but surely, life in nearly all its forms suffocated to death.2 All we know about the creatures that vanished is what they left behind, their fossilized remains-petrified plantlike stems and calices of sea-dwelling crinoids, limy corals, bits of ammonite shell, skeletons of certain kinds of fish, tiny seagoing creatures.

But extinctions can also occur with cataclysmic suddenness. The age of the dinosaurs, those massive reptiles that ruled the Earth for more than 165 million years, appears to have ended abruptly, in geological terms, roughly 65 million years ago. To this day, no one knows why. One theory, intriguing though not widely accepted, points to the fact that this was a period of intense volcanic activity in many places on the Earth's crust. Perhaps the most spectacular eruption occurred in what is now southern India. There, between 66 and 68 million years ago, the Earth cleaved apart, spewing what may have been as much as 48,000 cubic miles of lava over an area of more than 772,000 square miles,3 an area roughly three quarters the size of the entire American West. The remnant of this event is a formation known to geologists as the Deccan Traps.4 The consequences of an eruption of this scale could have been appalling: Immense quantities of dust and ash would have been flung into the upper atmosphere and, in a matter of weeks, would have darkened the sky everywhere on the globe. In time, starved of light, plants would have shriveled and died. Animals that lived on plants would have followed, and animals that lived on other animals would, in turn, have followed them. What may have happened next is uncertain. The sulfurous air could have reduced temperatures sharply worldwide. Alternatively, the death of plants on land, and algae in the seas, may have caused carbon...

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Table of Contents

Map of Egypt
Prologue: Death and Resurrection 3
1 Reaping the Whirlwind 7
2 The Bone-Hunting Aristocrat 21
3 Unearthing a Legend 46
4 Dragomen, Fossils, and Fleas 66
5 The Road to Bahariya 83
6 Finds and Losses 102
7 Sand, Wind, and Time 118
8 The Hill Near Death 138
9 Solving Stromer's Riddle 156
10 Lost World of the Lost Dinosaurs 180
Epilogue: Memorials 201
Notes 207
Bibliography 217
Acknowledgments 223
Index 227
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