National Geographic : 2014 Oct
106 national geographic • October 2014 out of range of Allied bombers. But the museum director, an ardent Nazi who disliked Stromer for his outspoken criticism of the Nazi regime, refused. In April 1944 the museum and nearly all of Stromer’s fossils were destroyed in an Al- lied air raid. All that was left of Spinosaurus were field notes, drawings, and sepia-toned photo- graphs. Stromer’s name gradually faded from the academic literature. Ibrahim, who grew up in Berlin, first encoun- tered Stromer’s bizarre colossus in a German children’s book on dinosaurs. From that day on, dinosaurs haunted him. He made three-toed theropod tracks at the beach, and his favorite cookies were shaped like Triceratops and Tyran- nosaurus rex. He visited paleontological collec- tions around Germany and built an impressive collection of models and fossil casts. He encountered Stromer’s work again while studying paleontology at the University of Bris- tol. “ The breadth and the depth of his work was incredible and inspired me to be ambitious in my own research,” Ibrahim says. While most doctoral students explore a tightly circum- scribed topic, Ibrahim’s 836-page dissertation at University College Dublin described the entire fossil record of the Kem Kem. Fieldwork for his Ph.D. brought him to Er- foud several times. On a visit in 2008, when Ibrahim was 26, a Bedouin showed him a card- board box containing four blocks of distinctive purplish stone streaked with yellow sediment. Protruding from the rock were what looked like a dinosaur hand bone and a flat blade of bone with an unusual milk-white cross section. Like all fossils heedlessly torn from their surrounding geology, the bones’ scientific value was dubious. Ibrahim offered to buy them anyway, thinking they might be of some use for the University of Casablanca’s fledgling paleontology collection. Ibrahim would come to understand their po- tentially enormous significance during a visit the next year to the Natural History Museum in Milan, Italy. Researchers Cristiano Dal Sasso and Simone Maganuco showed him a partial skeleton of a large dinosaur they had recently received from a fossil dealer. The specimen was laid out on tables in the basement: leg bones, ribs, numer- ous vertebrae, and several tall, distinctive dorsal spines. Ibrahim was astounded. It was clearly a Spinosaurus, substantially more complete than Ernst Stromer’s lost specimens. Dal Sasso and Maganuco told him that the dealer thought it had been excavated at a site called Aferdou N’Chaft, near El Begaa. The bones were still encrusted with the rock they’d been buried in, a purplish sandstone with yellow streaks. Lifting a chunk of spine, Ibrahim saw a familiar white cross section. “I realized the bones I’d bought in Erfoud must be Spinosaurus—that odd flat bone was a piece of spine,” Ibrahim remembers. It then occurred to him that the scrappy fossils from Erfoud and the magnificent specimen in Milan might belong to the same individual. If so, and if he could pinpoint the exact spot where the fos- sils had been buried, Among Stromer’s finds was a gigantic predator with yard- long jaws bristling with conical teeth. Its most extraordinary feature was the six- foot sail on its back. (Continued on page 118) Italy-based writer Tom Mueller wrote on Florence’s Duomo in the February 2014 issue. Mike Hettwer shot the May 2014 story on ship-breakers.