A new dinosaur of titanic proportions unearthed in the Egyptian desert could help scientists shed light on the history of dinosaurs in Africa.
The find, named Mansourasaurus shahinae and described in a paper published Monday in the journal Nature, “is the most completely preserved land-living vertebrate” from the end of the Cretaceous Period ever found on mainland Africa, the study’s authors write. Researchers said that the sauropod, a long-necked herbivore, was 80 million years old, 33 feet long, and weighed as much as 5.5 tons, according to Reuters.
The remains, which included parts of the skull, jaw, shoulder, and forelimb, were discovered during an expedition from Egypt’s Mansoura University in 2013.
Scientists hailed the “incredible discovery,” with Matt Lamanna, one of the study’s authors, calling it “the Holy Grail.”
Dinosaur fossils from the end of the Cretaceous Period — 94–66 million years ago and considered the final age of the dinosaurs — “are exceeding rare” in Africa, Lamanna wrote in a blog post. The period also saw prehistoric continents begin to separate, leading some scientists, he said, to speculate that African dinosaurs began to evolve independently of their neighbors across the Mediterranean Sea.
But the researchers determined that Mansourasaurus’ likeness to dinosaurs from Europe and Asia suggest it was more closely related to these dinosaurs than those from South America or elsewhere in Africa. The discovery led them to suggest that land-based dinosaurs continued to migrate between Europe and northern Africa toward the end of their time on Earth, the BBC reports.
“Africa remains a giant question mark in terms of land-dwelling animals at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs,” said Eric Gorscak, another co-author of the study. “Mansourasaurus helps us address longstanding questions about Africa’s fossil record and paleobiology.”