We may now think of Egypt as being mostly covered with sand, but from the desert researchers have uncovered the most complete African dinosaur fossil from the Late Cretaceous period yet, helping us understand the ancient links between Africa and Europe so long ago.
The dinosaur has been named Mansourasaurus shahinae, and belonged to the group of sauropods known as Titanosaurs. While this includes some truly massive individuals such as Dreadnoughtus and Argentinosaurus, this African cousin was much smaller in size, only weighing around the same as a bull African elephant.
“Mansourasaurus shahinae is a key new dinosaur species, and a critical discovery for Egyptian and African palaeontology,” explained Dr Eric Gorscak, coauthor of the paper published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. “Africa remains a giant question mark in terms of land-dwelling animals at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs.
“Mansourasaurus helps us address longstanding questions about Africa's fossil record and palaeobiology – what animals were living there, and to what other species were these animals most closely related?”
Most of what we know about the dinosaurs – and of course other animals that were scurrying around at the time – during the Late Cretaceous comes from the bone beds and fossil deposits of North America, the Gobi Desert, and Patagonia. When it comes to what creatures were stalking what is now the African continent some 100 million years ago, there is a massive gap in our knowledge.
This makes the discovery of Mansourasaurus incredibly rare, and vastly important.
At the time in question, the continents were undergoing extreme geological and geographic changes. Africa had already split from South America by this point, putting many lineages on different evolutionary paths. But the degree of connectedness between Northern Africa and further south, as well as with Europe and Asia, has still been something of a mystery.
By using dinosaurs, and looking to see how closely they were related in differing areas, however, palaeontologists are able to get a better idea of how well these regions were connected. The more closely related the dinosaurs, the easier it must have been for them to make the move from one continent to another.
And it turns out that Mansourasaurus was more similar to those from Europe and Asia than southern Africa and South America. “Africa's last dinosaurs weren't completely isolated, contrary to what some have proposed in the past,” said Gorscak. “There were still connections to Europe.”
The sauropod remains were unearthed in the Sahara Desert in Egypt by a team of palaeontologists from Mansoura University. They found a huge array of bones, from ribs and back vertebrae to the shoulders and forelimbs, and even parts of the skull and pieces of dermal plates. This makes the fossil the most complete Late Cretaceous dinosaur ever discovered in Africa.