Anglo/Irish Team announce New Prehistoric Finds in Sahara Desert

A joint British and Irish scientific team have announced the discovery of a number of new species of prehistoric animals from the Late Cretaceous of south-eastern Morocco.

Part of the beak of a huge pterosaur, possibly a relative of the giant, flying reptile Quetzalcoatlus, and bones of an enormous sauropod have been found at the site, close to the border with Algeria.  The deposits have also yielded evidence of giant fish, crocodiles and dinosaur footprints, indicating that this area of parched desert was once a lush, environment supporting a huge array of life.

Prehistoric Animals

The team endured sandstorms and had to travel over hazardous and dangerous country to reach the remote location, but the Anglo/Irish team’s efforts are being rewarded with the sediments providing some fascinating insights into a lost prehistoric world.

At the time these strange creatures roamed the region, the Sahara was covered in lush vegetation, waterways and lakes.   Commenting on the discoveries Dr David Martill of the University of Portsmouth stated:

“This river system was stuffed full of gigantic fishes, each two to four metres long. Everything there was of a huge size”.

Searching for a superlative to sum up the fossil finds Dr Martill stated:

“You could call it the ancient river of the giants.”

If National Geographic make a documentary on these finds, this would be an apt title for the programme, the rock strata indicates that during the Cretaceous a river as wide as the Danube is today, flowed across the densely vegetated landscape.

A Highlight of the Research

A highlight of the research was the discovery of a forty-cm-long beak tip, which belonged to a previously unknown pterosaur – a flying reptile.  Although, it can be difficult to speculate on the size of an animal from only a few fragmentary remains, the scientists have stated that it potentially had a wingspan in excess of 5 metres – this would make it about as long as an average family car.

The scientists believe that this pterosaur was a member of the Azhdarchidae group of pterosaurs.  These were advanced flying reptiles, with toothless beaks, long necks and some of these flying reptiles are believed to represent the largest flying animals of all time.

A one-metre-long dinosaur bone, from a giant sauropod (a long-necked dinosaur) was also uncovered.   Again it is difficult to estimate the size of an animal from only partial remains but this dinosaur was certainly very big, perhaps as much as 30 metres in length.

Dr Martill discussed the sauropod bone and indicated that it might have belonged to a macronarian sauropod (long-necked dinosaur with a box-like skull):

“We think this one might be linked with Brachiosaurus, but it is different.  The bone we found has some unusual features – it’s unusually robust for a humerus.  We’re 95% confident that it is a humerus but if its part of a femur it would mean this creature was unimaginably enormous.”

If the fossil bone turns out to be part of a thigh bone (femur) then this would represent one of the biggest dinosaur bones ever found.

Dr Martill with the Sauropod Fossil Bone

Picture credit: University of Portsmouth

Sauropod Fossil Bone

The partial bone can be seen in the picture, it is only a fragment of total limb bone, probably a humerus (arm bone) but if it is a femur (thigh bone) then the dimensions of the dinosaur would have to be scaled up.  Brachiosaurs had longer fore-limbs than hind-limbs, if this is a bone from the back legs then this dinosaur would have been a true giant.

An Illustration of a Brachiosaurus

Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur

Expedition leader Nizar Ibrahim, from the University College Dublin, said:

“It’s amazing to think that millions of years ago the Sahara was in fact a lush green tropical paradise, home to giant dinosaurs and crocodiles and nothing like the dusty desert we see today.”

What with the recent finds of new theropod dinosaurs in Argentina it seems that the Southern Hemisphere (Gondwanaland) is providing lots of new and fascinating dinosaur and prehistoric animal discoveries.

Everything Dinosaur stocks a huge range of prehistoric animal models: Models of Prehistoric Animals.