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Rare dino discovery

A skeleton has been unearthed in Egypt's Western Desert, whose ancient sands have long helped preserve remains, but unlike most finds this one isn't a mummy — it's a dinosaur.

Researchers from Mansoura University in the country's Nile Delta discovered the new species of long-necked herbivore, which is around the size of a city bus, and it could be just the tip of the sand dune for other desert dinosaur discoveries.

"As in any ecosystem, if we went to the jungle we'll find a lion and a giraffe. So we found the giraffe, where's the lion?" said Hesham Sallam, leader of the excavation team and head of the university's Center for Vertebrate Paleontology.

Sallam, along with four Egyptian and five American researchers, authored an article in the journal "Nature Ecology & Evolution" published Jan. 29 announcing the discovery.

Experts say the find is a landmark one that could shed light on a particularly obscure period of history for the African continent, roughly the 30 million years before dinosaurs went extinct, between 70 and 80 million years ago.

Named "Mansourasaurus Shahinae" after the team's university and for one of the paleontology department's founders, the find is the only dinosaur from that period to have been discovered in Africa, and it may even be an undiscovered genus.

In the article the authors say the team's findings "counter hypotheses that dinosaur faunas of the African mainland were completely isolated" during the late Mesozoic period. That is, previous theories were that Africa's dinosaurs during that time existed as if on an island and developed independently from their northern cousins.

But Mansourasaurus' fossilized skeletal remains suggest an anatomy not very different from those discovered in Europe from the same period, an indication that a land connection between Africa and its northern neighbour may have existed.

Sallam said researchers don't know how Mansourasaurus lived and died, except for the fact that it was a plant eater. There's no indication whether it lived alone or in a herd.

The bones do bear resemblance to another dinosaur discovery in Egypt, that of the Paralititan Stromeri, excavated by an American team from the University of Pennsylvania, whose findings were published in 2001. But only in so much as both were long-necked herbivores grazers. The Paralititan Stromeri is believed to have been among the largest known animals, weighing in at 75 tons and over 30 metres long.



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