Sunday 23 September 2018

Rare dinosaur discovery in Egypt could signal more finds

Long-necked herbivore Mansourasaurus Shahina was at least 33ft long and weighed several tonnes.

Hesham Sallam displays bones of a Cretaceous period dinosaur in Mansoura, Egypt (AP)
Hesham Sallam displays bones of a Cretaceous period dinosaur in Mansoura, Egypt (AP)

By Maggie Hyde

A dinosaur skeleton the size of a city bus has been unearthed in Egypt’s Western Desert.

Researchers from Mansoura University in the Nile Delta said the new species of long-necked herbivore could herald other desert dinosaur discoveries in a country more famous for its archaeological, rather than paleontological, treasures.

Hesham Sallam, leader of the excavation team and head of the university’s Centre for Vertebrate Paleontology, said: “As in any ecosystem, if we went to the jungle we’d find a lion and a giraffe. So we found the giraffe – where’s the lion?”

Mr Sallam, along with four Egyptian and five American researchers, announced the discovery in an article in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, on January 29.

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A fossilised bone is displayed next to a drawing of the Cretaceous period dinosaur (AP)

Experts said the find is a landmark which could shed light on a particularly obscure period of history for the African continent, between 70 and 80 million years ago – approximately 30 million years before dinosaurs became extinct.

Named “Mansourasaurus Shahinae” after the team’s university and for one of the paleontology department’s founders, the fossil is the only dinosaur from that period to have been discovered in Africa – and it may even turn out to be an undiscovered genus.

The authors said the team’s findings “counter hypotheses that dinosaur faunas of the African mainland were completely isolated” during the late Mesozoic period. Previous theories held that Africa’s dinosaurs during that time existed as if on an island and developed independently from their northern cousins.

However, Mansourasaurus’ fossilised skeletal remains suggest an anatomy not very different from dinosaurs discovered in Europe from the same period, an indication that a land connection between Africa and its northern neighbour may have existed.

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Hesham Sallam, head of Mansoura university’s Centre for Vertebrate Paleontology, displays a left dentary bone which holds the teeth of the ancient creature (AP)

While Egypt has a long history of archaeology, paleontology has not enjoyed the same popularity, or the same success.

In 1911 in the Western Desert, the German paleontologist Ernst Stromer discovered four species from the Cretaceous period, including the predatory Spinosaurus, later made famous in Jurassic Park III. All of his findings were lost in an Allied bombing of the Munich Museum during the Second World War.

Mr Sallam said researchers do not know how Mansourasaurus lived and died, except for the fact that it was a plant eater. There is no indication whether it lived alone or as part of a herd.

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A bird sits on a lamp post in front of a banner honourig the team which found Mansourasaurus Shahinae (AP)

The bones do resemble another dinosaur discovery in Egypt, that of the Paralititan Stromeri. This long-necked herbivore is believed to have been among the largest known animals, weighing 75 tonnes and 100ft long.

The Mansourasaurus’ smaller size is more typical of the Mesozoic era, when dinosaurs’ time was running out, geologically speaking. With a long neck and tail, it was around 33ft long, and weighed several tonnes.

The Western Desert would have more closely resembled a coastal jungle during the dinosaur’s lifetime, when half of today’s Egypt was underwater.

Press Association

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