Meet Mansourasaurus shahinae, a dinosaur discovered in the Sahara Desert in Egypt by a US-Egyptian team of paleontologists, a big discovery in more than one way.
First, this dinosaur is a titanosaur that belongs to the sauropod family which includes some of the largest and heaviest animals to have trod on the earth’s surface. They were present on a large part of the globe at the time of the mass extinction of dinosaurs, 66 million years ago.
More importantly, this new species also represents one of the few dinosaur discoveries on the African continent, of which only a few fossils dating back 100 to 66 million years have been dug up. The reason? The abundant vegetation that now covers the areas where they lived.
“When I saw the photos of the fossils, the arms dropped. It was the Holy Grail!” says Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
The dinosaur lived about 80 million years ago.
This fossil is the most complete fossil found in Africa dating from the late Cretaceous. These fossilized bones include bones of the skull, the lower jaw, vertebrae, ribs, much of a shoulder, a front paw and a hind paw and pieces of bone plates that strengthened its skin.
The herbivorous beast had a large neck and was about the size of a bus and had to weigh about the same as an elephant.
“It was very exciting to see my students discover one bone after another. Each of the new pieces recovered allowed us to visualize a little better the gigantism of this dinosaur,” said Dr. Hesham Sallam, University of Mansourah
This fossil will help to better understand the evolution of the dinosaurs at a time when Pangea, this unique supercontinent that connected all the land on the planet, began to fragment.
Researchers are still trying to define the isolation level of each new continent and whether species have evolved independently on each piece of land.
Initial tests show that Mansourasaurus was closer to dinosaurs in Europe and Asia than those found in southern Africa or South America.
“The last dinosaurs in Africa were not completely isolated, contrary to what some have argued in the past,” says Eric Gorscak, paleontologist at Ohio University.