Researchers have found the Holy Grail of African Dinosaurs in the Sahara Desert.
Experts have uncovered a massive new species of a titanosaur which roamed across the Sahara more than 80 million years ago, revealing a long-lost link between Africa and Europe, during the so-called end of the Dinosaur Era.
The skeleton is the most complete plant-eating Cretaceous Period dinosaur ever found on the continent and has helped reveal the ancestral link between Africa and Europe during the end of the reign of the great saurians. Named Mansourasaurus shahinae, the creature was nearly 33 feet (10 meters) long and weighed around 5.5 tons (5,000 kg).
Africa, the Sahara, and the great Saurian mystery
When talking about the final days of dinosaurs, Africa is a place mostly unknown to science.
The fossils found in the Upper Cretaceous, a time ranging between 100 and 66 million years ago, are scarce.
The course of the evolution of the African dinosaurs has been a great mystery for paleontologists.
But in the Sahara Desert in Egypt, scientists have discovered a new species of dinosaur that would help fill in these gaps: the Mansourasaurus shahinae.
This reptile, comparable to a school bus in size, had an elongated neck, ate plants and possessed a type of bone plates embedded as if they were part of their skin.
The remains were unearthed by an expedition from the University of Mansoura, in Egypt and the name of the creature was given to honor this academic institution, and promote paleontological research.
Mansourasaurus shahinae is a species of key dinosaurs, and a crucial discovery for Egyptian and African paleontology, according to the authors.
It helps address important questions like which animals lived in those areas, or what other species they were linked to.
Dinosaur fossils of the Upper Cretaceous in Africa are scarce and are difficult to find: much of the ground where the fossils may be located is covered with leafy vegetation, unlike the ease that the Rocky Mountains, the Gobi Desert or Patagonia offer.
The situation intrigues paleontologists; since it is a stage of significant geological and geographical changes.
A link between Continents
During the early reign of the dinosaurs, throughout the Triassic and Jurassic periods, all continents on our planet were joined together in a supercontinent called Pangea.
During the Cretaceous, however, the continents began to separate into the known configuration.
Historically, it has not been clear for experts how well-connected Africa has been to other regions of the Southern Hemisphere and Europe at this time (and to what extent African animals would have separated from their neighbors and evolved into separate lanes).
The Mansourasaurus, one of the few known African dinosaurs of this period, helps answer this question.
Due to its peculiar characteristics, this specimen is more related to European and Asian dinosaurs than to those found in southern Africa or South America.
This, in turn, shows that some dinosaurs could move between Africa and Europe at the end of the dinosaur reign.
It means that the last of African dinosaurs were not completely isolated, as was believed in the past.
The recently found dinosaur fossil found belongs to a dinosaur family called Titanosaurus, a group of sauropods (long neck, vegetarian) common during the Cretaceous.
Titanosaurs are famous for having provided us with the most massive terrestrial animals that ever lived, such as the Argentinosaurus, the Dreadnoughtus or the Patagotitan.
Mansourasaurus, however, had a more moderate size, with an approximate weight similar to that of an elephant.
Its skeleton is important because it happens to be the most complete dinosaur specimen discovered until the time of the end of the Cretaceous in Africa, preserving parts of the skull, the infernal jaw, the neck, vertebrae and ribs, most of the shoulder and arms, parts its paws, and pieces of skin plates.
Experts refer to the Mansourasaurus as the Holy Grail of the age of dinosaurs in Africa, being a specimen sought for a long time in the scientific community.
Other scientists have compared the discovery as an initial piece of the puzzle, perhaps an edge or a corner that will help, from it, to build the new figure.
“This is just beginning, and we hope that the discovery of fossils in Egypt will be expedited,” said Hesham Sallam, lead author of the article and member of the Department of Geology of the aforementioned alma mater.