The dinosaur, christened Mansourasaurus shahinae, lived in the late Cretaceous era
The fossils, which date back to the Late Cretaceous era, the time period from 100 to 66 million years ago, were discovered in the Sahara Desert in Egypt.
And the dinosaur, which has been given the name Mansourasaurus shahinae, was a long-necked plant eater which was as long as a bus and which weighed as much as an elephant.
The remains were unearthed by the Mansoura University Vertebrate Palaeontology (MUVP) initiative, spearheaded by Dr Hesham Sallam of the Department of Geology at Mansoura University based in Egypt’s Nile Delta. The dinosaur is named after both Mansoura University and Ms Mona Shahin for her role in developing the MUVP.
Dr Sallam said: “The discovery and extraction of Mansourasaurus was such an amazing experience for the MUVP team.
“It was thrilling for my students to uncover bone after bone, as each new element we recovered helped to reveal who this giant dinosaur was.”
The discovery is particularly important because, up until now, the evolution of dinosaurs in Africa has been something of a mystery, with relatively few discoveries in comparison with other continents.
Dr Eric Gorscak, a postdoctoral research scientist at The Field Museum and a contributing author on the study, said: “Mansourasaurus shahinae is a key new dinosaur species, and a critical discovery for Egyptian and African paleontology.
“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 paleobiology – what animals were living there, and to what other species were these animals most closely related?”
Mansourasaurus shahinae was as long as a bus and weighed as much as an elephant
Africa presents particular difficulties for palaeontologists because much of the land where fossils might be found is covered in thick foliage and vegetation, as opposed to exposed rock in the case of the Rocky Mountain region in the USA and the Gobi Desert, for example, both of which have yielded large hauls over the years.
The absence of African fossils during the Late Cretaceous period has been especially frustrating because during that time, the supercontinent of Pangaea was splitting apart and the continents which we know today were starting to form.
Consequently, it has been unclear how well connected Africa was to other Southern Hemisphere landmasses and to Europe this time, and to what extent its animals may have been cut off and evolving separately as a result.
Analysis of Mansourasaurus suggests it was much more closely related to dinosaurs from Europe and Asia than to those found further south in Africa and those which existed in South America.
‘It’s like finding an edge piece that you use to help figure out what the picture is, that you can build from.’
This suggests that at least some of them could move between Africa and Europe towards the end of the Cretaceous era, which came to an abrupt halt when the asteroid which wiped all all dinosaurs struck the Earth 65 million years ago.
Mr Gorscak said: “Africa’s last dinosaurs weren’t completely isolated, contrary to what some have proposed in the past. There were still connections to Europe.
“It’s like finding an edge piece that you use to help figure out what the picture is, that you can build from. Maybe even a corner piece.”
The exciting discovery was made by palaeontologists in the Sahara desert in Egypt
Dr Sallam said: “What’s exciting is that our team is just getting started. Now that we have a group of well-trained vertebrate paleontologists here in Egypt, with easy access to important fossil sites, we expect the pace of discovery to accelerate in the years to come.”
The discovery was also welcomed by Dena Smith of the US-based government agency the National Science Foundation.
She said: “The discovery of rare fossils like this sauropod dinosaur helps us understand how creatures moved across continents, and gives us a greater understanding of the evolutionary history of organisms in this region.”
(Additional reporting by Maria Ortega.)