In Egypt's Sahara Desert, paleontologists have uncovered a 98-million-year-old vertebra belonging to a new type of large-bodied, meat-eating dinosaur. The bipedal abelisaurid roamed around during the Cretaceous period 66 million to 145 million years ago, Live Science's Joanna Thompson reports. Like other abelisaurids, the dinosaur had a fierce bulldog-like face. Details on the new species were described this month in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
Abelisaurids have stocky hind limbs, and like a Tyrannosaurus Rex, have stubby, vestigial forelimbs. The new fossil was found during an expedition to the Bahariya Oasis in 2016, reports Joseph Golder for Zenger News. The first fossils of a number of other dinosaur species, like the Spinosaurus, have been found in the exposed formation where the new species was located, a statement explains. This is the first time an abelisaurid fossil has been found in the Bahariya Formation, and the oldest of its clade found in all of northeastern Africa. Most have been discovered in Europe and various Southern Hemisphere continents.
Despite only uncovering one bone, researchers were able to identify it as an abelisaurid by projections, called epipophyses, sticking out of either side, Live Science reports. Further computer analysis confirmed that the vertebrae belonged to an unknown species.
“We're about 99 percent sure that, unlike some of its relatives from other times and places, this particular abelisaurid was not at the top of its food chain," paleontologist and study author Matthew Lamanna, from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh tells Live Science. The vertebra was similar to other known abelisaurids, Carnotaurus from Argentina and Majungasaurus from Madagascar, per a statement. Researchers suspect the new abelisaurid was smaller than Carnotaurus. While Carnotaurus was a Patagonian predator that reached 25 feet, the new species may have only reached 16 to 20 feet, per Live Science.
In addition to the abelisaurid, the site was once home to a variety of large predators, Live Science reports, like the sail-backed fish eater Spinosaurus and the large therapod Bahariasaurus (whose only known specimen was destroyed in a World War II bombing raid).
"During the mid-Cretaceous, the Bahariya Oasis would've been one of the most terrifying places on the planet," Belal Salem, an Ohio University graduate student and first author of the study, says in a statement. "How all these huge predators managed to coexist remains a mystery, though it's probably related to their having eaten different things, their having adapted to hunt different prey."
The vertebra is the oldest known fossil of abelisaurid in northeastern Africa, a statement explains. "In terms of Egyptian dinosaurs, we've really just scratched the surface," says study coauthor and paleontologist at the Mansoura University Vertebrae Paleontology Center, Hesham Sallam, in a statement. "Who knows what else might be out there?"