Carnivorous dinosaur similar to T-Rex discovered in Egypt's Western Desert

Six-metre theropod believed to have lived more than 98 million years ago

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An Egyptian research team has discovered the fossil of a large, carnivorous dinosaur believed to have lived more than 98 million years ago in the Bahariya Oasis of Egypt’s Western Desert.

The team was led by Hesham Sallam, professor of vertebrate palaeontology at The American University in Cairo and founder of the Mansoura University Vertebrate Paleontology Centre (MUVP).

A research paper describing the discovery was published in the scientific journal Royal Society Open Science on Wednesday.

The well-preserved vertebra, or backbone, from the base of the neck of a theropod was recovered on a 2016 MUVP expedition. Theropods, the same subgroup to which the Tyrannosaurus rex belongs, are characterised by hollow bones and three-toed limbs.

Trailblazing Egyptian team

“We are the only vertebrate palaeontologists working in Egypt documenting prehistoric life,” Prof Sallam told The National.

“I’m really enjoying my dream of seeing my students leading a scientific paper on a discipline that didn’t exist in Egypt before my time.”

Several exciting prehistoric findings have been made by Egyptian teams in recent years. Last August, a team of palaeontologists from Mansoura University announced the discovery of a species of semi-aquatic whale that lived 43 million years ago. And in February, a collaborative study from Cairo and New Valley universities found dinosaur footprints dating back 70 million years.

Prof Sallam decided to take the lead in bringing the science of vertebrate palaeontology to Egypt shortly after receiving his master’s degree from Mansoura in 2002.

“I was lucky to get a scholarship from the Egyptian government to study rare disciplines that are needed,” he said. He went on to study at the University of Oxford in 2006 and returned with a doctorate in 2010.

The Bahariya Oasis is known for its rich fossils and the discovery of several famous dinosaurs during the early 20th century, such as Spinosaurus, the largest known carnivorous dinosaur. Two other giant theropods, the Carcharodontosaurus and Bahariasaurus, were also found in the oasis.

But the Bahariya dinosaur fossils were shipped to Munich’s palaeontological museum, where they were destroyed during an allied bombing of the city in 1944.

Hesham Sallam said his research team comprises 'the only vertebrate palaeontologists working in Egypt documenting prehistoric life'. Photo supplied

The large predatory dinosaurs that roamed what is now the Egyptian Sahara during the middle of the Cretaceous period, which began 145 million years ago and ended 66 million years ago, are among the abelisaurid family. They existed in Europe and the Southern Hemisphere during the later stages of the Mesozoic Era, or Age of Dinosaurs.

The latest unnamed abelisaurid is estimated to have been six metres in body length with a bulldog-shaped face and short limbs.

Collaborators on the study, which was led by Ohio University graduate student Belal Salem of MUVP, included a team of Egyptian and international researchers from Ohio University, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the University of Michigan, Benha University and the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency.

“Identifying definitive abelisaurid from Bahariya is very exciting for Egypt and MUVP, as this group of predatory dinosaurs continues to tell us a lot about vertebrate communities during the Cretaceous Period,” said Ohio University professor of biomedical sciences Patrick O’Connor.

Updated: June 12, 2023, 9:41 AM