With its long neck and skin dotted with bone plates, Mansourasaurus, a new dinosaur discovered in the Egyptian Sahara, is a “holy grail” for paleontologists as Africa has delivered few of these fossilized animals.

“When I saw the photos of the fossils, the arms fell to me. It was the Holy Grail! “, Says Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in the United States, co-author of the study published Monday in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Mansurasaurus, an elephant-sized herbivore, belongs to the family sauropods, the largest terrestrial mammals ever to occur, present in a large part of the world at the time of mass extinction of dinosaurs 66 million years ago. years.

The fossil, “the most complete discovered in Africa, dating from the end of the Cretaceous” according to a statement from the University of Ohio, includes bones of the skull, the lower jaw, vertebrae, ribs, much of a shoulder, a front paw and a hind paw and pieces of bone plates that consolidated her skin.

Whether well or poorly preserved, very few Cretaceous fossils have been discovered in Africa, a lush and highly protective vegetation now covering the areas where they lived.

Without these fossil proofs, the evolution of the dinosaurs at a time when Pangea was breaking apart – the unique super-continent that connected all the lands – remains mysterious.

The researchers are still trying to define the isolation level of each new continent and whether the species had evolved independently on each block.

But Mansourasaurus’ analysis allowed researchers to discover that it was closer to dinosaurs in Europe and Asia than to those found in southern Africa or South America.

“The last dinosaurs of Africa were not completely isolated, contrary to what some have advanced in the past,” says Eric Gorscak who participated in this study for the University of Ohio.