Scientists say they have uncovered the ‘Holy Grail’ of dinosaur fossils.
It belongs to a dinosaur that was as big as a school bus and lived in what is now the Sahara Desert about 80 million years ago.
The dinosaur, a plant-eater named Mansourasaurus shahinae, was about 45 feet long and weighed seven tons. It had bony plates embedded in its skin and a huge tail.
The dinosaur’s long neck would have allowed it to reach high foliage in what would have been lush grasslands.
The skeleton is the most complete ever unearthed in Africa from the end of the Cretaceous period.
It includes parts of the skull, the lower jaw, neck and back vertebrae, ribs, most of the shoulder and forelimb, part of the hind foot and pieces of the bony skin plates.
Dr Matt Lamanna, of Carnegie Museum of Natural History in New York, said: “When I first saw pictures of the fossils my jaw hit the floor.
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“This was the Holy Grail – a well-preserved dinosaur from the end of the Age of Dinosaurs in Africa – that we palaeontologists had been searching for for a long, long time.”
The remains show the dinosaur was more closely related to those from Europe and Asia than ones found further south in Africa or South America.
This means some dinosaurs may have moved between what became Africa and Europe before they became extinct.
Dr Eric Gorscak, of the Field Museum in Chicago, said: “Africa’s last dinosaurs weren’t completely isolated – contrary to what some have proposed in the past. There were still connections to Europe.”
The fossil was dug up on a coastline of the western desert of Egypt.
Expedition leader Dr Hesham Sallam, from Mansoura University in Egypt, said: “The discovery and extraction of Mansourasaurus was such an amazing experience for the 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.”
Dr Gorscak added: “Mansourasaurus shahinae is a key new dinosaur species – and a critical discovery for Egyptian and African palaeontology.
“Africa remains a giant question mark in terms of land-dwelling animals at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs.
“Mansourasaurus helps us address longstanding questions about Africa’s fossil record and palaeobiology – what animals were living there and to what other species were these animals most closely related?”