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29 March 2023
Published online 29 January 2018
Scientists unearth near-complete remains of a school-bus-sized dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous era, around 94 to 66 million years ago.
The well-preserved remains, identified by a team of scientists from the Mansoura University Vertebrate Paleontology (MUVP) initiative, belong to a titanosaurian sauropod––a type of long-necked, herbivorous dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous, the final epoch in a period spanning 79 million years when dinosaurs were still the dominant land animals.
Mansourasaurus is the sixth and youngest dinosaur to be discovered from Egypt, explains a study published today in Nature Ecology & Evolution.
“The discovery and extraction of Mansourasaurus was such an amazing experience for the MUVP team,” says Hesham Sallam, lead author of the study and paleontologist at the department of geology at Mansoura University, Egypt. “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.”
Sallam and his peers say that the fossils—back foot, neck and back vertebrae, cranium and mandible among other bones—represent “the most complete remains” belonging to a dinosaur of this era in all of the African continent, and arguably, a turning a point in Egyptian paleontology.
Fossils found in Africa from the Upper Cretaceous are few and far between, explains Sallam, meaning that “the course of dinosaur evolution in Africa has largely remained a mystery.” But, according to the lead researcher, this new species of dinosaur—a school-bus-length, plant-eater with bony plates protruding from its skin—should help fill some critical knowledge gaps.
“It's been one bone here, a part of a bone there, and if we're really lucky, a few bones found together. But this new discovery goes far beyond that. It is the most complete dinosaur from the latest Cretaceous of Africa,” says Stephen Brusatte, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh.
The researcher, who was not involved in this study, describes the affair as “unexpected and fantastic.”
He adds, “it was an animal of immense size, about 10-meters long, with a neck that would stretch high up in to the trees. It is known from several parts of the skeleton, including the skull. It is incredibly rare to find skull bones of these big, long-necked sauropods, so that on its own is a big deal."
Until recently, the geography and dispersal patterns of Upper Cretaceous era vertebrates across the ancient supercontinent of Pangaea—that about 180 million years ago had separated into Africa, South America, Australia, Antarctica, the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian Peninsula—have been largely unknown.
It hasn't been clear how well-connected Africa was to other Southern Hemisphere landmasses and Europe during this time, and to what degree Africa's animals may have been cut off from their neighbors and evolving on their own separate tracks.
"When these continents were separated, the fauna and the dinosaurs that lived on them were affected by this movement, and to understand what happened to them you need to discover the dinosaur first,” says Iman Abdel Aziz, one of the co-authors of the study.
By analyzing the features of the bones, researchers Sanaa El-Sayed, Iman El-Dawoudi, Mai El-Amir, and Sara Saber of MUVP, led by Sallam, have concluded that the Mansourasaurus is more closely related to dinosaurs from Europe and Asia than it is to those found farther south in Africa or in South America, indicating a solid link between the continents.
“This shows that at least some dinosaurs could move between Africa and Europe near the end of these animals’ reign,” says Sallam. The animal is among the last species of dinosaurs that walked the Earth before their extinction some 66 million years ago.