Scientists unearth fossils of titanosaur that lived about 80 million years ago

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Dinosaur Spain
A life reconstruction of Morelladon is shown in this illustration provided by Carlos de Miguel Chaves. Reuters/Carlos de Miguel Chaves

Fossils of a long-necked, four-legged dinosaur were found in a Sahara Desert oasis in Egypt. The school bus-sized dinosaur is believed to have walked the earth about 80 million years ago, a discovery that offers a glimpse into the last chapter of the age of dinosaurs in Africa.

The Cretaceous Period dinosaur is named Mansourasaurus shahinae. Researchers said on Monday that it was a plant-eating species, almost 33 feet in height and weighed 5.5 tons.

The huge animal was part of a group called titanosaurs, considered as one of the largest-ever land animals on Earth. Mansourasaurus boasted osteoderms embedded in its skin like many titanosaurs.

The new find was the most complete dinosaur skeleton found in Africa from the end of the Cretaceous. Parts of its skull, neck, lower jaw, ribs, back vertebrae, shoulder and forelimb, back foot and osteoderms were reportedly recovered. It was modestly sized next to other titanosaurs such as Africa's Paralititan and South America's Argentinosaurus, Dreadnoughtus and Patagotitan.

Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh said that Mansourasaurus was a pipsqueak compared to 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 a long, long time,” Lamanna, one of the authors, said.

The Mansourasaurus is one of the few dinosaurs known from the last 15 million years of the age of dinosaurs on mainland Africa. It lived not far from the shore of the ancient ocean that preceded the Mediterranean Sea and was said to be more closely related to European and Asian titanosaurs than to those from elsewhere in Africa. Lamanna said that it demonstrates how some dinosaurs could move between North Africa and southern Europe. It also runs counter to hypotheses which claimed that Africa’s dinosaur faunas were secluded from others.

Field Museum in Chicago’s Eric Gorscak, a postdoctoral researcher, said that most of Africa are covered in grasslands, rainforest and savannas that obscure underlying rock where fossils may be discovered. According to National Geographic, the fossils were unearthed in 2013. Paleontologists from Egypt's Mansoura University were having an expedition at that time.

Lamanna, meanwhile, said that the end of the age of dinosaurs in Africa is among the final frontiers for dinosaur palaeontology, The new discovery “adds a bit of hard evidence to what African fauna was like” during this time period.

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