Egyptian dinosaur discovery fires up paleontology world, shows ties to Europe

An artist impression of the newly discovered Egyptian dinosaur

The huge animal was part of a group called titanosaurs that included the largest-ever land animals on Earth. And yet, there are places in the world where their remains from certain time periods are not found, making it hard for scientists to put together the puzzle of Earth's geological and geographic history.

Egyptian researchers discovered the newfound sauropod - a long-necked, long-tailed herbivorous dinosaur named Mansourasaurus shahinae- in the Sahara Desert.

The Mansoura University Vertebrate Palaeontology group will continue its work looking for fossils in northern Africa. Its name honors the town where the university is located, as well as Mona Shahin, who helped develop the Mansoura University Vertebrate Paleontology project.

Paleontologists from Mansoura University have unearthed a fossil of a new species of dinosaur in the Dakhla oasis in central Egypt that lived almost 80 million years ago.

"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".

Mansourasaurus lived about 80 million years ago, and the fossilised individual measured around 8 to 10 metres (26 to 33 feet) - around the length of a London bus - and weighed about as much as an African bull elephant.

It had a long neck and bony plates embedded in its skin.

With such an important discovery under their belts, the researchers hope that the discovery of new fossil evidence in Africa will come more frequently in the future. The Mansourasaurus's bones were exceptionally well preserved, with parts of the skull, lower jaw, neck and back vertebrae, ribs, most of the shoulder and forelimb, part of the hind foot, and pieces of dermal plates surviving.

Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh said Mansourasaurus was a pipsqueak compared to some other titanosaurs although it is a big animal in today's standards. "This was the Holy Grail - a well-preserved dinosaur from the end of the Age of Dinosaurs in Africa - that we paleontologists had been searching for for a long, long time".

That's why a spectacular new find in Egypt has palaeontologists buzzing.

Through analyzing the fossils, researchers determined Mansourasaurus is more closely related to dinosaurs from Europe and Asia than those found farther south in Africa or in South America.

It has not 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 neighbours to evolve along their own separate lines.

The fossil record is patchy at best, but there's a particularly large hole in time and space over Africa towards the end of the dinosaurs' reign. The specimen answers questions like "What animals were living there?" and "To what other species were these animals most closely related?"

"The discovery of rare fossils like this dinosaur helps us understand how creatures moved across continents and gives us a greater understanding of the evolutionary history of organisms in this region", said Dena Smith of the National Science Foundation, which partially funded some of the research in the study.

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