“Holy grail” of dinosaur fossils found in Egyptian desert

“Holy grail” of dinosaur fossils found in Egyptian desert

A new species of dinosaur has been uncovered in the Egyptian desert, a rare discovery in a part of the world not known for dino fossils. The huge animal, which was roughly the size of a school bus, is an “incredible discovery,” scientists said in a new study that was published today.”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 for a long, long time,” said Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, one of the authors of the study.

The species, dubbed Mansourasaurus shahinae, was a plant-eater that lived 80 million years ago in what’s now the Sahara Desert.

The fossils were dug up in 2013 during an expedition by paleontologists from Egypt’s Mansoura University. It’s the most complete dinosaur skeleton discovered in Africa from the end of the Cretaceous.

At that time, what’s now the Sahara was no desert but instead a lush, coastal region.

Though well-known for human fossils, dinosaur bones in Africa aren’t commonplace: “Dinosaur fossils of this age are exceedingly rare on all of continental Africa, not just in Egypt,” Lamanna wrote on a blog post about the discovery. “Until recently, no one had ever found a reasonably complete dinosaur skeleton from the end of the Cretaceous anywhere on continental Africa.”

The new study was published in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

World geography was very different millions of years ago during the age of the terrible lizards: During the Triassic and Jurassic periods, all the continents were joined together as the supercontinent Pangaea. But later, during the Cretaceous period, the continents began to split apart and drift toward the configuration we see today.

What does this mean for the dinosaurs? Researchers say the newly discovered species was more closely related to dinosaurs from Europe and Asia than it was to those found farther south in Africa or in South America.

This, scientists say, shows that at least some of the dinosaurs could have moved between Africa and Europe near the end of these animals’ reign. The findings should help paleontologists determine additional links between Africa and the other six continents.

“The discovery of rare fossils like this dinosaur helps us understand how creatures moved across continents and gives us a greater understanding of the evolutionary history of organisms in this region,” said Dena Smith of the National Science Foundation, which partially funded some of the research in the study.

For Lamanna, the discovery was “the culmination of a search that’s occupied almost half my life.”