New dinosaur is discovered beneath the Sahara Desert

The Mansourasaurus shahinae is said to be from the very end of the Cretaceous Period

New dinosaur is discovered beneath the Sahara Desert

Image: Carnegie Museum of Natural History/Andrew McAfee

The fossil of a newly-discovered dinosaur has been found in the Sahara Desert in Egypt.

The Mansourasaurus shahinae is said to be from the very end of the Cretaceous Period - the third and final time period of the age of dinosaurs.

Dinosaur fossils of this age, the period up to 66 million years ago, are exceedingly rare on all of continental Africa.

Matt Lamanna is principal dinosaur researcher at Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

"Some have proposed that African latest Cretaceous dinosaurs were close relatives of, and therefore similar to, those living on neighbouring landmasses at the same time.

"Other scientists have argued that Africa was an island continent at the end of the Cretaceous, and, because it was cut off from other land areas, it was home to unique dinosaurs that had evolved for millions of years along their own distinctive evolutionary pathways.

"Until recently, no one had ever found a reasonably complete dinosaur skeleton from the end of the Cretaceous anywhere on continental Africa."

Mansourasaurus shahinae | Image:  Carnegie Museum of Natural History/Andrew McAfee

He says that while a few isolated bones and minor parts of skeletons had been discovered, these did not tell much about the dinosaurs to which they belonged.

"But all of that changed in late 2013, when my friend and colleague Dr Hesham Sallam of Mansoura University in Egypt... discovered the skeleton of a sauropod (long-necked plant-eating dinosaur) at an 80 million-year-old site in the Dakhla Oasis of the Egyptian Sahara."

According to Dr Sallam: "The discovery and extraction of Mansourasaurus was such an amazing experience for the MUVP team.

"It was thrilling for my students to uncover bone after bone, as each new element we recovered helped to reveal who this giant dinosaur was."

For Lamanna: "The dinosaur I’d dreamed about for virtually all of my professional life had finally been found".

"We soon realised that the creature had a lot to say about the nature of Africa’s last dinosaurs, as its bones suggested close relationships to species living in Europe and Asia at about the same time.

"These hypotheses were borne out by more rigorous analyses, showing that African latest Cretaceous dinosaurs weren’t island-dwelling weirdos after all - rather, they had close cousins in Eurasia.

"Today, our team gave the dinosaur its formal scientific name, Mansourasaurus shahinae, and for me, it's the culmination of a search that’s occupied almost half my life," Lamanna adds.