The new fossil find Mansourasaurus shahinae is not only cool on its own—imagine a plant-eating dino the size of a school bus with armor-like plates in its skin—but it also starts to fill a big gap in what we know about dinosaurs in Africa.
Scientists unearthed this newly named sauropod in the Sahara Desert of Egypt. This titanosaur lived about 80 million years ago, smack dab in the middle of the Late Cretaceous, a period when continents were moving and some of the biggest dinosaurs roamed. While fossil records in North and South America are pretty well known—including fellow titanosaur Patagotitan mayorum from Argentina—the record of land-dwelling animals in Africa remains somewhat of a mystery.
This is where Mansourasaurus comes in, providing a link between African dinos and those found elsewhere in the world. Before this discovery, it wasn’t quite clear how connected Africa was to other parts of the Southern Hemisphere or Europe and Asia 100 to 66 million years ago. But by analyzing the new titanosaur’s bones, scientists found that Mansourasaurus is more closely related to dinosaurs that lived in Europe and Asia than to ones from South America.
Field Museum paleontologist Eric Gorscak, who worked on the study, says, “Africa’s last dinosaurs weren’t completely isolated, contrary to what some have proposed in the past. There were still connections to Europe.”
Though not the biggest titanosaur—Mansourasaurus likely weighed as much as an African bull elephant, while Patagotitan was closer to 10 elephants in weight—it provides some big answers to what dinosaur evolution in Africa looks like. We still need more information to get a clearer picture, but this is a key piece of the puzzle. As Gorscak says, “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.”
This study was led by Mansoura University in Egypt and published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.
See a cast of the titanosaur Patagotitan mayorum at The Field Museum starting in May 2018.