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Sahara desert dinosaur discovery a critical puzzle piece for science

AFP, January 31, 2018 7:53PM AFP

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What scientists believe the dinosaur would have looked like. Source: AFP media_cameraWhat scientists believe the dinosaur would have looked like. Source: AFP

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A long-necked dinosaur unearthed in the Sahara desert has provided the first evidence of contact between African and European dinosaurs shortly before the creatures became extinct* .about 66 million years ago, scientists say.

Given a lack of dinosaur skeletons from Africa, palaeontologists* have battled to reconstruct a map of how the animals spread across the world after the “supercontinent” Pangaea* broke up into different land masses some 200 million years ago.

Many believed Africa’s dinosaurs were completely isolated* from cousins on other continents by the time their lifetime was brought to an abrupt end, possibly by an asteroid* strike.

The new specimen, a school bus-sized plant-eater given the name Mansourasaurus shahinae, sheds new light on Afro-European dinosaur ties, its discoverers said.

A reconstruction of the titanosaurian dinosaur Mansourasaurus shahinae on a coastline in what is now the Western Desert of Egypt, approximately 80 million years ago.Source: AFP media_cameraA reconstruction of the titanosaurian dinosaur Mansourasaurus shahinae on a coastline in what is now the Western Desert of Egypt, approximately 80 million years ago.Source: AFP

Looking at its physiology*, the team decided that Mansourasaurus was “more closely related to dinosaurs from Europe and Asia than it is to those found farther south in Africa or in South America,” according to a statement from Ohio University.

“This, in turn, shows that at least some dinosaurs could move between Africa and Europe near the end of these animals’ reign. Africa’s last dinosaurs weren’t completely isolated.”

Very few dinosaur fossils from the late Cretaceous period, about 100 to 66 million years ago, have been unearthed on the African continent.

Discovered in the Sahara Desert in Egypt, Mansourasaurus is the most complete dinosaur skeleton from the late Cretaceous era (66 to 100 million years ago) ever found in Africa.

The remains include scattered bits of the creature’s vertebrae, skull, lower jaw, ribs, and leg bones.

Mansourasaurus is a titanosaur, a group which included some of the biggest land animals ever to have lived.

“When I first saw pics of the fossils, my jaw hit the floor,” said study co-author Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

“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 a long, long time.”

GLOSSARY

extinct: a species or group having no living members

palaeontologists: people who study plant or animal fossils

Pangaea: a supercontinent that existed before it broke into our current seven continents.

isolated: situated far away from other places, buildings, or people/animals

asteroid: a small rocky body orbiting the sun

physiology: the way in which a living organism or bodily part functions.

Holy Grail: a thing which is eagerly pursued or sought after

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CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

1. Why is the discovery of Mansourasaurus important?

List all of the things that you can find in the story that helped you to answer this question.

Think about at least three things we don’t know about Mansourasaurus. Write them down and for each one, write a sentence explaining why you think that this would be important for us to know.

Time: allow about 15 minutes.

Curriculum Links: English, Science

Extension: What do you think the fossils that have been found would look like? Draw each of them. Make your drawings as detailed as you can. For each drawing, write sentences explaining why you think the fossil would look like this.

Time: allow at least 45 minutes.

Curriculum Links: Science, Critical and Creative Thinking.

2. Draw a map

In the story you read about ‘Pangaea’ the ‘supercontinent’. Find out more about Pangaea. Use the information that you have found to draw or make a map of Pangaea that shows how our continents came from it.

Time: allow about 45 minutes

Curriculum Links: Science.

Extension: Write a job advertisement for a palaeontologist to work on the Mansourasaurus research. In your advertisement, include the skills and training that you think a good palaeontologist would need.

Time: allow about 25 minutes.

Curriculum Links: English

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