Sahara Desert Reveals 'Holy Grail' of Dino Discoveries

African dinosaur suggests link to Europe in late Cretaceous Period
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 30, 2018 9:25 AM CST
Sahara Desert Reveals 'Holy Grail' of Dino Discoveries
An artist's depiction of "Mansourasaurus shahinae."   (Andrew McAfee, Carnegie Museum of Natural History)

Researcher Matt Lamanna calls it "the Holy Grail" of dinosaur discoveries. After decades of digging had left a 44-million-year gap in the fossil record for dinos in Africa, Lamanna says his jaw "hit the floor" when he saw photos of skull fragments, a lower jaw, neck and back vertebrae, shoulder and forelimb bones, and a foot bone indicating "a well-preserved dinosaur … we paleontologists had been searching for for a long, long time," per a release. The BBC explains few dinosaur fossils have been found in Africa from the late Cretaceous Period (100 million to 66 million years ago) when the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart and dinosaurs eventually disappeared. The gap left some wondering if African dinosaurs evolved separately from other species as the continent perhaps became more isolated. The discovery of Mansourasaurus shahinae in western Egypt disputes that theory.

Found in the Sahara Desert in 2013, per National Geographic, the long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur weighing as much as an elephant (and also with bony plates in its skin) is more closely related to dinosaurs from Europe and Asia than those from southern Africa and South America, which suggests dinosaurs could move freely between Africa and Europe during the late Cretaceous Period. "It shows Africa wasn't this strange lost world of dinosaurs that lived nowhere else," says Lamanna, whose research is published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. Fellow researcher Eric Gorscak compares the discovery to a corner or edge piece of a puzzle "that you use to help figure out what the picture is." Experts expect more fossils lie in wait in Africa, though vegetation and political conflict may prevent their discovery. (This dinosaur had a "rainbow glimmer.")

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