Giant Dinosaur Roamed Prehistoric Egypt, Extremely Rare Titanosaur Fossil Discovery Shows

This is a life reconstruction of the new titanosaurian dinosaur Mansourasaurus shahinae on a coastline in what is now the Western Desert of Egypt approximately 80 million years ago. Andrew McAfee, Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Finding dinosaurs in Egypt is rare, every specimen makes a difference. That's why it's so lucky that, on the northern end of the Nile, researchers found fossilized remains of a titanosaur, a long-necked, enormous dinosaur that stretched the length of a school bus. One researcher called the fossil "the holy grail" of African dinosaur discoveries.

The new dinosaur, a relative of the famous Patagotitan mayorum, is known only from ribs, some neck vertebrae and parts of the shoulder blades, legs and skull. It lived during the post-Cenemonian Cretaceous, around 94-66 million years ago, an era from which fossils are rare and often broken into bits. This partial skeleton, called Mansourasaurus shahinae, represents the most complete land vertebrate fossil from that era on mainland Africa.

Mansourasaurus was about the size of a bull African elephant, with the long neck and tail characteristic of titanosaurs. When extended, the ancient beast stretched as long as a school bus from head to tail, according to a release about the find. It also had bony plates embedded in its skin, like protective armor.

Just one partial skeleton can make a difference in our understanding of theend of the Cretaceous in Africa. Since so little is known, Eric Gorscak, a paleontologist at the Field Museum and Ohio University, one of the authors of the study on Mansourasaurus, says this dinosaur find is an early, but critical component of what we know about the era. "It's like finding an edge piece that you use to help figure out what the picture is, that you can build from," Gorscak said in a press release. "Maybe even a corner piece."

The left lower jaw bone of the new titanosaurian dinosaur, Mansourasaurus shahinae, as it was found in rock of Quseir Formation of the Dakhla Oasis, Egypt. Hesham Sallam, Mansoura University

For example, since the Mansourasaurus was a titanosaur at the end of the age of dinosaurs in Africa, that means that these long-necked plant-eaters lived not only in South America, Europe and Asia, but in Africa as well. Since they are so closely related to the Europasian dinosaurs like Lohuecotitan, this indicates that land animals were able to, at some point, travel between the two continents.

During the Triassic and Jurassic, the continents were all joined together. But it had been millions of years since the continents had split apart, resembling the land formation we see today, during the late Cretaceous. Shallow but wide seas separated Africa from Eurasia, and much of today's landmass was underwater.

Mansourasarus was named for Mansoura University, home of the researchers who uncovered and analyzed the remains. Paleontologists at Ohio University analyzed them and contributed to the paper, which was published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.