Paleontologists in Egypt have found fossil fragments from a new species of titanosaurian sauropod dinosaur that walked the Earth around 80 million years ago (Cretaceous period).
Dubbed Mansourasaurus shahinae, the ancient beast was a type of titanosaur, a group of sauropod (long-necked plant-eating) dinosaurs.
Its fossilized skeleton, including skull elements, was discovered near the Dakhla Oasis in the Egyptian Western Desert.
Mansoura University paleontologist Hesham Sallam and colleagues determined the remains belong to a new genus and species of titanosaur.
“The skeleton of Mansourasaurus shahinae is important in being the most complete dinosaur specimen so far discovered from the end of the Cretaceous 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,” the researchers said.
“When I first saw pics of the fossils, my jaw hit the floor,” said co-author Dr. Matt Lamanna, from 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 a long, long time.”
During the earlier years of the dinosaurs, throughout much of the Triassic and Jurassic periods, all the continents were joined together as the supercontinent Pangaea. During the Cretaceous period, however, the continents began splitting apart and shifting towards the configuration we see today.
Historically, it hasn’t been clear how well-connected Africa was to other Southern Hemisphere landmasses and Europe during this time — to what degree African animals may have been cut off from their neighbors and evolving on their own separate tracks.
Mansourasaurus shahinae, as one of the few African dinosaurs known from this time period, helps to answer that question.
“Mansourasaurus shahinae is a key new dinosaur species, and a critical discovery for Egyptian and African paleontology,” said co-author Dr. Eric Gorscak, from the Field Museum.
“This dinosaur 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?”
By analyzing features of its bones, the paleontologists determined that Mansourasaurus shahinae is more closely related to dinosaurs from Europe and Asia than to those found farther south in Africa or in South America. This, in turn, shows that at least some dinosaurs could move between Africa and Europe near the end of these animals’ reign.
“Africa’s last dinosaurs weren’t completely isolated, contrary to what some have proposed in the past. There were still connections to Europe,” Dr. Gorscak said.
The findings appear in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.