Newly Discovered Egyptian Dinosaur Solves Africa's Oldest Mystery
With its lush vegetation and lack of exposed rock, Africa has proven to be one of the most difficult contenents for paleontolgists to excavate dinosaur fossils. As a result of few fossils being unearthed, the last 30 million years that dinosaurs lived in Africa has long remained a mystery.
That is until yesterday. The discovery of the Mansourasaurus shahinae changes the entire course of history, a study in Nature Ecology & Evolution announced.
The dino belongs to the Titanosauria, a group of incredibly large, long-necked plant-eating dinosaurs called sauropods that were common during the Cretaceous period.
"Africa remains a giant question mark in terms of land-dwelling animals at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs," said Dr. Eric Gorscak of The Field Museum, who worked on the research.
"Mansourasaurus helps us address longstanding questions about Africa's fossil record and palaeobiology—what animals were living there, and to what other species were these animals most closely related?"
The Mansourasarus, found during an expedition in the Egyptian desert led by Mansoura University, is being treated as a holy grail finding because the near-complete specimen fills in a large gap in the fossil record during the late Cretaceous period, as landmasses were undergoing incredible geological changes, splitting apart from the single landmass of Pangea and starting to become what we now know as separate continents.
During this split, paleontologists have long had trouble figuring out at what point during Africa's split from other landmasses and Europe the animals started to create their own separate African lines. The Mansourasaurus has proven instrumental in decoding this mystery, as the anatomical features of its bones are much more closely related to European and Asian dinosaurs than those from further south in Africa, or South America, showing that dinos were still moving between what we now know as separate continents during this period.
"Phylogenetic analyses demonstrate that Mansourasaurusis nested within a clade of penecontemporaneous titanosaurians from southern Europe and eastern Asia, thereby providing the first unambiguous evidence for a post-Cenomanian Cretaceous continental vertebrate clade that inhabited both Africa and Europe," says the study. "The close relationship of Mansourasaurus to coeval Eurasian titanosaurians indicates that terrestrial vertebrate dispersal occurred between Eurasia and northern Africa after the tectonic separation of the latter from South America ~100 million years ago. These findings counter hypotheses that dinosaur faunas of the African mainland were completely isolated during the post-Cenomanian Cretaceous."
Other recent dino discoveries include a turkey-sized herbivore that thrived in near-total darkness and below freezing temperatures, a rainbow-feathered, bird-like dino that rewrites the Earth's history, and an insect preserved in amber that drank dinosaur blood.