A recent discovery in the Sahara Desert in Egypt is considered the “Holy Grail” of dinosaur fossils in Africa as it is one of the few found in Africa that dates back to the late Cretaceous period.
Paleontologists have long wondered how dinosaurs evolved in Africa and if they are related to their European or South American relatives, but the lack of fossils dating back to that time has left many questions unanswered.
However, scientists have now uncovered one of the most well preserved and complete fossils from the end of Creatiactos Period and found that it was a new species named Mansourasaurus shahinae.
Mansourasaurus shahinae was a long-necked herbivore that measured about the length of a school bus.
The discovery was made by a team of researchers from the Mansoura University Vertebrate Paleontology (MUVP) initiative, led by Dr. Hesham Sallam of the Department of Geology at Mansoura University in Egypt.
The find is noteworthy in that it helps fill in the evolutionary gaps of African dinosaurs.
“When I first saw pics of the fossils, my jaw hit the floor,” said Matt Lamanna of Carnegie Museum of Natural History, a co-author of the study. “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.”
The researchers analyzed the fossils and found that its features were related to European and Asian dinosaurs rather than those in South America or farther south in Africa.
This means that Mansourasaurus likely evolved from dinosaurs that migrated from Europe and traveled across continents near the end of the Cretaceous period, which helps shed light on continent formation during that time.
“Africa’s last dinosaurs weren’t completely isolated, contrary to what some have proposed in the past,” said Eric Gorscak, a contributing author on the study. “There were still connections to Europe.”
Gorscak also notes that the new find is monumental for paleontologists looking understand and fill in the gaps in Africa’s fossil record.
Mansourasaurus shahinae is an exciting find that could provide answers to the many mysteries surrounding African dinosaurs and now, thanks to the ease of access to fossil sites and experienced team behind the find, more discoveries are sure to come.
Image Credit: Andrew McAfee, Carnegie Museum of Natural History