Scientists say they’ve discovered a new species of dinosaur in the Sahara Desert that will help to fill in gaps in the African fossil record that have long frustrated paleontologists.
The new species, Mansourasaurus shahinae, is named after the Mansoura University in Egypt, whose team led by Dr. Hesham Sallam of the Department of Geology made the discovery of a long-necked herbivore about the size of a school bus. Sallam is lead author of the work published Monday in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
The find is the most complete dinosaur specimen ever discovered from the end of the Cretaceous Period in Africa, preserving parts of the skull, the lower jaw, neck and back vertebrae, ribs, most of the shoulder and forelimb, part of the hind foot, and pieces of dermal plates.
“When I first saw pics of the fossils, my jaw hit the floor,” said co-author Dr. Matt Lamanna, a dinosaur paleontologist with Carnegie Museum of Natural History. “This was the Holy Grail—a well-preserved dinosaur from the end of the Age of Dinosaurs in Africa—that we paleontologists had been searching for for a long, long time.”
Mansourasaurus belongs to the Titanosauria sauropods common across the world during the Cretaceous, but is more closely related to dinosaurs from Europe and Asia than it is to those found farther south in Africa or in South America. This shows that at least some dinosaurs could move between Africa and Europe near the end of these animals’ reign, the scientists said, which has implications for understanding the dinosaurs amid sweeping geological and geographic changes on the planet.
“Africa remains a giant question mark in terms of land-dwelling animals at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs,” said Dr. Eric Gorscak, a postdoctoral research scientist at The Field Museum who began the work while at Ohio University. “Mansourasaurus helps us address longstanding questions about Africa’s fossil record and paleobiology—what animals were living there, and to what other species were these animals most closely related?”
Africa’s last dinosaurs weren’t completely isolated by land mass changes, as some have proposed, and there were still connections to Europe, Gorscak said. He described the discovery as an early step in solving a jigsaw puzzle, with a border or corner piece that helps to anchor what you’re looking for.
Image: Ohio University