At the close of last year I highlighted how paleontologists had uncovered a wealth of fluffy troodontid dinosaurs from North America and Asia in 2017. But I just as easily could have showcased titanosaurs. Mesozoic researchers have been uncovering new species at a breakneck pace, including a new contender for the largest dinosaur yet known. But this isn't just about size. Even relatively small sauropods can offer new views of the past.

The 80 million-year-old dinosaur, named Mansourasaurus by paleontologist Hesham Sallam and colleagues, is a titanosaur known from a partial skeleton. But as with everything fossiliferous, context is everything. 

One of the reasons this relatively small titanosaur is making headlines is because of its geologic background. Late Cretaceous dinosaurs are very rare in continental Africa. To get even a partial skeleton - and one with parts of the skull - is reason for celebration by itself.

This rarity cuts both ways. Not only does it make most any dinosaur discovery in this window of time significant, but those dinosaurs can tell us something about the bigger picture of their evolution. So it is with Mansourasaurus. When Sallam and coauthors looked at the dinosaur's relationships, its closest titanosaurian relatives turned up in prehistoric Europe. This is despite the fact that the continents had long been separated by this time, meaning that there had to be a dispersal of titanosaurs from Europe to northern Africa around 100 million years ago. With just one dinosaur, paleontologists have discovered a connection no one even knew was there.

Mansourasaurus in its Cretaceous heyday. Credit: Andrew McAfee Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Name: Mansourasaurus shahinae

Meaning: Mansaourasaurus refers to Mansoura University, whose paleontologists excavated the dinosaur.

Age: Cretaceous, about 80 million years ago.

Where in the world?: Dakhla Oasis, Egypt. 

What sort of organism?: A titanosaur.

How much of the organism’s is known?: An associated partial skeleton.


Sallam, H., Gorscak, E., O'Connor, P., El-Dawoudi, I., El-Sayed, S., Saber, S., Kora, M., Sertich, J., Seiffert, E., Lamanna, M. 2018. New Egyptian sauropod reveals Late Cretaceous dinosaur dispersal between Europe and Africa. Nature Ecology & Evolution. doi: 10.1038/s41559-017-0455-5

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