Researchers from Mansoura University in Egypt have recently discovered a new dinosaur species they say represents an advancement in our understanding of prehistoric land animals on the African and European continents.
As Fox News reports, the Mansoura University Vertebrate Paleontology program led the Egyptian expedition in the Sahara desert during which fossils belonging to the new species, subsequently named Mansourasaurus shahinae. The remains are believed to be about 80 million years old.
The species is described as a long-necked herbivore with bony plates embedded in its skin. It was about the size of a school bus, weighing more than 5 tons and stretching 33 feet long, according to Reuters.
Along with a detailed description of the remains found, a report published by Nature Ecology and Evolution noted that the discovery “provides an opportunity to test hypotheses of biotic connections between northern Africa and southern Europe during the (post-Cenomanian Cretaceous).”
That period, roughly 94 million to 66 million years ago, has provided few fossilized remains on the continent, according to the journal.
“Here we present a new titanosaurian sauropod dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous (Campanian) of Egypt that is represented by the most complete terrestrial vertebrate skeleton yet discovered from the PCC of the African mainland,” the researchers wrote.
According to an author who contributed to the study, scientists might be closer to addressing a number of unanswered questions in light of research on this new species.
“Mansourasaurus shahinae is a key new dinosaur species, and a critical discovery for Egyptian and African paleontology,” Dr. Eric Gorscak said.
He went on to say that Africa is still in many ways a “giant question mark in terms of land-dwelling animals” during the period preceding the extinction of the 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?” said Gorscak, a postdoctoral research scientist at the Field Museum.
He noted that at least one question was answered with the discovery itself.
“Africa’s last dinosaurs weren’t completely isolated, contrary to what some have proposed in the past,” Gorscak said. “There were still connections to Europe.”
There has long been disagreement among scientists regarding how continental drift impacted the connection between Africa and Europe during this period.
Dr. Matthew Lemanna, a paleontologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and another author of the study, was even more effusive in his celebration of the discovery.
“When I first saw pics of the fossils, my jaw hit the floor,” he said.
Lemanna called the fossil the “Holy Grail,” echoing the study’s emphasis on its potential to answer longstanding questions.
He said that “a well-preserved dinosaur from the end of the Age of Dinosaurs in Africa” is something “we paleontologists had been searching for for a long, long time.”
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