A long-necked dinosaur unearthed in Egypt has yielded the first evidence of contact between African and European dinosaurs shortly before the creatures disappeared for good about 66 million years ago, scientists said on Monday.
Given a dearth of dinosaur skeletons from Africa, paleontologists have battled to reconstruct a map of how the animals spread across the world after the “supercontinent” Pangaea broke up into different land masses about 200 million years ago.
Many believed Africa’s dinosaurs were completely isolated from cousins on other continents by the time their heyday was brought to an abrupt end.
The specimen, an elephant-sized plant-eater given the name Mansourasaurus, sheds new light on Afro-European dinosaur ties, its discoverers said.
Looking at its physiology, the team concluded that Mansourasaurus was “more closely related to dinosaurs from Europe and Asia than it is to those found farther south in Africa or in South America,” a statement from Ohio University said.
“This, in turn, shows that at least some dinosaurs could move between Africa and Europe near the end of these animals’ reign. Africa’s last dinosaurs weren’t completely isolated,” it added.
Few dinosaur fossils from the late Cretaceous period, about 100 to 66 million years ago, have been unearthed on the African continent. Much of the land where fossils can be found is today covered in lush vegetation, unlike the exposed rock in which bones are frequently found in Patagonia, for example.
Discovered in the Sahara Desert, Mansourasaurus is the most complete dinosaur skeleton from the late Cretaceous ever found in Africa. The remains include scattered bits of the creature’s vertebrae, skull, lower jaw, ribs and leg bones.
Mansourasaurus is a titanosaur, a group that also includes some of the biggest-ever land animals, such as Argentinosaurus, Dreadnoughtus and Patagotitan.
“When I first saw pics of the fossils, my jaw hit the floor,” said study coauthor Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. “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.”
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