It began years ago with a chance encounter...

This fossil became an important clue to Nizar Ibrahim’s search.

Nizar Ibrahim was in a small town in Morocco in 2006. He’s a paleontologista scientist who studies fossils. He’s also a National Geographic Explorer.

He just finished collecting fossils in the nearby Sahara. He was about to leave Morocco and head home to study them. But before he left, he wanted to talk to some of the local fossil hunters. He wondered if any of them had found fossils that might provide clues to the fossils he had found.



boxes of fossils found in Morocco

Ibrahim was approached by a man who had a box of fossils he had collected. The man had a mustache. Ibrahim was more interested in what was in the box than the man. He had no way of knowing that the man’s mustache would become very important to this story later.

The box was full, but one fossil caught the explorer’s eye. It was long and flat. He had never seen one like it before. He thought that it might be part of a spine or a rib. He wasn’t sure. He thought it might be important, so he bought the box. 

After the sale, the man with the mustache disappeared. Years would pass before Ibrahim thought about this fossil or the man again. Yet, that fossil would lead him on an amazing journey. In the end, he would discover one of the oddest dinosaurs that ever lived.

Ibrahim used the fossils that had been found to piece together an unknown dinosaur.

Picturing the Past

Ibrahim has made dinosaurs his life’s work. He often travels to the Sahara to look for fossilized bones. Ibrahim uses the scientific process to piece together the past. He studies the bones and observes the shape of the bones and where they are found, and he thinks about what part of the animal they came from. He asks key questions to form a hypothesis, or explanation, for how these ancient animals used to live.

To others, the Sahara might look windy, desolate, and dry. Yet, when Ibrahim looks out across the desert, he sees something else. He pictures what this place looked like 95 million years ago. Instead of sand, he sees rivers and swamps teeming with life. There were giant turtles, huge crocodiles, and fish the size of cars. Here, flying reptiles filled the sky. Three of the world’s largest meat-eating dinosaurs walked on land.

Searching for Spinosaurus took hard work and perseverance.

Ibrahim and team members study part of the tail of Spinosaurus.

Something Urgent

One day, Ibrahim received a message from some paleontologists in Italy. These friends described a number of fossils they had seen that they thought Ibrahim would want to see, too.

When he arrived, several fossils were laid out for him in the basement of a museum. They were long, flat bones. His friends thought the bones may have come from Morocco. These bones looked familiar. They looked a lot like the fossil he bought from the stranger with the mustache years ago.

These bones reminded Ibrahim of something else, too. They reminded him of some drawings and photos of a dinosaur that he had seen in a book when he was a child. Could these things be connected? Ibrahim was beginning to form a new hypothesis.

A Different Dinosaur

The bones Ibrahim remembered from the book had been discovered by a German scientist. He had uncovered these unusual dinosaur bones in the Sahara.

This dinosaur was bigger than T. rex. It had long jaws and sharp teeth shaped like cones. It also had a huge sail on its back. The scientist named it Spinosaurus.

Only two partial skeletons of Spinosaurus had ever been found. A museum in Germany put them on display, but they were destroyed during World War II. Only the scientist’s notes and old photos remained.

Ibrahim thought his fossil and the ones in Italy might be from Spinosaurus, but he needed proof. He needed more bones. He would have to return to Morocco. He would have to find the man with the mustache.