Mansourasaurus shahinae: The Egyptian Discovery

On the 29th of January a new species of sauropod Mansourasaurus shahinae was announced to have been discovered by Palaeontologists in the Egyptian Desert. A surprising fossil find as North Africa is not well known for major Dinosaur discoveries, this article will examine this fascinating Dinosaur discovery and what the implications of this fossil find are for Palaeontologists in the North of Africa.

January has been an amazing month for Dinosaur fossil discoveries and for Palaeontologists around the world. In my previous articles I covered some truly fascinating and research changing fossil finds that should hopefully keep researchers and Palaeontologists busy for a very long time. However some regions throughout the world like the North of Africa for instance do not have the luxury of continued success of discovering nearly complete Dinosaur fossils. This is mostly due to Geology of the area, vegetation and the likelihood of fossilization. It seems really fitting then to finish January off with an article about a new species of sauropod a Titanosaur called Mansourasaurus shahinae which was first found in 2013 in the Sahara Desert in Egypt, but only now the research has been announced to the world.

Mansourasaurus shahinae
Life restoration of  Mansourasaurus shahinae. Image credit: Andrew McAfee / Carnegie Museum/TNS, 2018 via New York Daily News

The excitement about this discovery was palpable not just from Palaeontologists but the Media as well. The story of this unusual Dinosaur fossil discovery broke on the 29th of January when an article was published by Egyptian Palaeontologists in the Journal of Nature Ecology and Evolution. Over the course of the 29th, 30th and 31st of January various Science and News websites picked up this incredible story. These included among many others the National Geographic, Live Science, Science Alert, Nature Middle East as well as Sky News, BBC News and CNN.

The fossil of Mansourasaurus was found in 2013 and has been under research by Palaeontologists at the Mansoura University in Egypt since then. The research that was undertaken on the fossil was funded in part by the National Geographic Society (Gibbens S, 2018). Nearly all fossil research is done in Universities, Museums, and Laboratories with most research being co-funded by external organizations, charitable funds or grants. Mansourasaurus is the sixth Dinosaur to be discovered in the Egyptian region and it is also the youngest that has been found so far, from the Late Cretaceous (Said M, 2018).

So what was Mansourasaurus shahinae?

Mansourasaurus shahinae was a sauropod that lived around 80-66 million years ago. It was a herbivore, around the length of a bus and it weighed as much as an Elephant. The animal like most sauropods had a long neck and it also had bony plates also known as Osteoderms embedded in its skin (Briggs H, 2018). Sauropods were Saurischian (lizard-hipped) Dinosaurs and were one of the most successful species of Dinosaur to exist appearing at the start of the Triassic 250 million years ago, flourishing in the Jurassic 150 million years ago and ultimately being replaced at the End of the Cretaceous with the titanosaurs which roamed from 136-66 million years ago. Mansoursaurus belongs to the group titanosaur the last surviving long necked sauropods of the Late Cretaceous.

Why is this Dinosaur Discovery Important?

This discovery is important for a number of reasons. Africa’s fossil history is very scarce because many fossil remains are covered by vegetation and not the bare rock that so frequently offers up fossils as seen in other regions in the world. Surprisingly the fossilized bones of Mansourasaurus were very well preserved with parts of the skull, jaw, lower neck and back vertebrate present as well as the shoulder and part of the hind foot (Starr M, 2018). Osteoderms were also found to be present on the fossil suggesting it was covered in dermal plates along its back.

Mansourasaurus is the most complete fossil discovery of a Dinosaur from the Late Cretaceous in the North of Africa, which is very fascinating. Dr Matt Lamanna Palaeontologist and the study co-author from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History said that he was shocked when he saw the photographs for the first time. He called it the “Holy Grail” of Dinosaur discoveries that Palaeontologists in the Egyptian region had been searching for a very long time (Sky News, 2018).

 

mansourasaurus-shahinae-bones
Skeleton of Mansourasaurus shahinae. The bones shown in colour are those that are preserved in the original fossil; other bones are based on those of closely related Titanosaurs. Image credit: Andrew McAfee, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, 2018 via International Business Times

 Dinosaur fossils in Egypt are very hard to find. Unlike the Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile or Dinosaur Provincial Park in Canada much of Africa is covered by vegetation with not much rocky exposures available, making fossil digging and knowing where to dig very difficult (Geggel L, 2018). Finding this discovery and unearthing a new species of Titanosaur in the Egyptian Sahara was a very unlikely discovery with some very important implications for Palaeontologists.

What are the Implications of this fossil discovery for Palaeontologists in Egypt?

The Mansoursaurus discovery should hopefully shed more light on what life was like in North Africa 80 million years ago. Already we know that back then the continents were starting to shift. The continents were moving away from the landmass they once were, known as Pangea. The discovery of Mansourasaurus suggests that Cretaceous Africa still had ties with its neighbouring continents during the continental shifts at the time as the sauropod is very similar to other titanosaurs that have been found in Asia and Europe, it is unlike those found in Southern Africa or South America (Goenka H, 2018).

Due to the Geology of the area in North Africa today African fossils from the Late Cretaceous have been a major anomaly because of the lack of fossil finds from this time. The discovery of Mansourasaurus will hopefully help to answer questions about the African fossil record, what creatures lived during that time and what they were closely related to (Andrei M, 2018). For Palaeontologists working in Egypt it is a very exciting time. This fossil discovery should be the start of more fossil discoveries in the Egyptian region which should hopefully break down more backstory as to what life was like for Mansourasaurus and the other Dinosaurs it lived alongside during the Late Cretaceous.

The lower jaw bone
The lower jaw bone of Mansourasaurus shahinae. Image credit: Hesham Sallam, Mansoura University, 2018 via BBC NEWS

I hope you have found this discovery intriguing, I certainly have. The fossil discoveries this January have really surprised me being some of the most diverse and unexpected fossil discoveries in recent times. Hopefully February will be just as productive for Palaeontologists and scientists the world over. Keep an eye on Jurassic Finds development over this February, I have a feeling more fossil discoveries are just around the corner!

 

References

 

Gibbens S. (2018) Huge Dinosaur Found in Egypt is First of its Kind, [online] National Geographic, Available from: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/01/new-egyptian-dinosaur-africa-europe-asia-cretaceous-spd/ [Accessed 31st January 2018]

 

Said M. (2018) Scientists unearth near-complete remains of a school-bus-sized dinosaur from the Upper Cretaceous era, around 94 to 66 million years ago, [online] Nature Middle East, Available from: www.natureasia.com/en/nmiddleeast/article/10.1038/nmiddleeast.2018.7 [Accessed 31st January 2018]

 

Briggs H. (2018) Lost history of African dinosaurs revealed, [online] BBC NEWS, Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-42860263 [Accessed 31st January 2018]

 

Starr M. (2018) Huge Dinosaur Uncovered in Egypt Reveals The Lost Link Between Africa And Europe, [online] Science Alert, Available from: https://sciencealert.com/late-cretaceous-sauropod-titanosaur-dinosaur-egypt-mansourasaurus-shahinae [Accessed 31st January 2018]

 

Sky News (2018) New dinosaur discovered beneath the Sahara, [online] Sky News, Available from: https://news.sky.com/story/new-dinosaur-discovered-beneath-the-sahara-11228730 [Accessed 31st January 2018]

 

Geggel L. (2018) Why Paleontologists Are Stoked to Find This Bus-Size Dinosaur in Egypt, [online] Live Science, Available from: https://www.livescience.com/61554-dinosaur-fossils-discovered-in-egypt.html [Accessed 31st January 2018]

 

Goenka H. (2018) Mansourasaurus Shahinae: Rare Dinosaur Fossil from Late Cretaceous Links Africa, Europe, [online] International Business Times, Available from: www.ibtimes.com/mansourasaurus-shahinae-rare-dinosaur-fossil-late-cretaceous-links-africa-europe-2646397 [Accessed 31st January 2018]

 

Andrei M. (2018) Big dinosaur is a big piece of evidence for Africa’s geological past, [online] ZME Science, Available from: https://www.zmescience.com/science/news-science/geologist-fossil-africa-30012018/ [Accessed 31st January 2018]

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