The (fossil of the) last African dinosaur has been discovered in a Moroccan mine. The new findings are published in the journal Cretaceous Research.
Dinosaurs in Africa
Dinosaurs lived in Africa millions of years ago. A dinosaur fauna distinct to the continent appears to have evolved back then, a newly-identified species named Chenanisaurus barbaricus; this is believed to have happened after the ancient supercontinent Gondwana broke up into pieces in mid-Cretaceous era. The dinosaur eventually disappeared around 66 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period, when the last dinosaurs of Earth died out following a mass-extinction event.
Marine Fossil Dinosaur?
The fossil of the C. barbaricus has been discovered in a phosphate mine in the north of Morocco: Dr Nick Longrich from the Milner Centre for Evolution, and the University of Bath spotted a rare piece of a jaw bone in the mines at Sidi Chennane in the Oulad Abdoun Basin. The Moroccan phosphate deposits formed part of an ancient seabed (dating back 66 million years). The majority of fossils are embedded in marine rocks because the sea levels of that era were relatively high.
“This find was unusual because it’s a dinosaur from marine rocks—it’s a bit like hunting for fossil whales, and finding a fossil lion. It’s an incredibly rare find—almost like winning the lottery. But the phosphate mines are so rich, it’s like buying a million lottery tickets, so we actually have a chance to find rare dinosaurs like this one,” says Dr Longrich.
Smaller Arms than T. rex’s
While we know only very little of the dinosaurs of Africa that lived at the end of the Cretaceous period, the study of the fossils shows that the C. barbaricus lived at around the same time as the T. rex. Our African dinosaur was smaller than its North American contemporary.
This dinosaur might be the first African one named from the end-Cretaceous.
Dr Longrich and his colleagues from Morocco, France, and Spain analysed the fragment of jaw bone, and found that it belonged to the abelisaur group, which comprised two-legged predators, thus resembling the tyrannosaurs, but with shorter and blunter snouts, and with even smaller arms. The tyrannosaurs conquered North America and Asia, and the abelisaurs, Africa, South America, India, and Europe. Abelisaurs’ upper arm bone was short, with a shorter lower arm, and tiny hands. They deduced that the Chenanisaurus was a predator like the T. rex because its teeth appear to have been used to bite into bone. Unlike the T. rex though, it had only scales, and no feathers. Its brain too was smaller, and its face shorter and deeper.
Dr Longrich adds that their findings show the difference between the known dinosaurs and the fauna living in the Southern hemisphere at that time.