During one of several days showing computer executives how to navigate in the desert, one of them - Per from Sweden - produced from his backpack what looked like the stone vertebra of a creature at least as large as cow. He’d found it some 3 km back, near an outcrop some 60 km north of Hara Oasis in Egypt. Hara is in the Bahariya depression and Bahariya is famous for dinosaur remains, including the notorious spinosaurus featured to grisly effect in Jurassic Park III, if you follow that kind of thing.
We jumped in the car and went back to check. What was really interesting apart from the 6 or 7 obvious lines of vertebrae was the fact that a) there were so many remains and b) a group of 18 people had walked past them and through and only one person had noticed. Now we knew what to look for we saw dinosaur bones everywhere. The concept of ‘search image’ is well known to paleontologists. They look at pictures and extant examples of fossils before going to find the real thing. You truly do find what you are looking for. In our case, of course, no one had a camera, so these few words must suffice.
Apart from the vertebrae we found tube like lengths of fossil which suggested those tube like fronds found in the ocean. That this area was under the sea several times in the past is indicated everywhere by the seashells and shark’s teeth easily found. As we looked at the seemingly vegetable fronds we began to doubt our vertebrae. Were they really dinosaur backbones or just more of the sea tubers? That we had found something was not in doubt. But what exactly? A return visit with a more knowledgeable person is the obvious answer. And taking pictures might help.
For me, though, the experience of driving back over the sand, jumping out, and seeing those bones lined up in the sand was enough. It was the essence of discovery - alone in the desert, miles and miles away from anyone or anywhere, free, finding something new, unwritten about, unphotographed. It was an experience I never want to forget.