'Last African dinosaur' discovered in Moroccan mine
Wednesday, May 17, 2017, 3:43 - A fossil of one of the last dinosaurs living in Africa before their extinction 66 million years ago has been discovered in a phosphate mine in northern Morocco.
A study of the jawbone, led by the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath in the UK, suggests Africa had its own distinct dinosaur fauna, until the asteroid strike that wiped them out.
"We have a pretty good picture of the dinosaurs from North America for this time period...but we dont have a good picture of what's going on in the rest of the world and we know almost nothing about the African dinosaurs from this time period. So it's the first named dinosaur from the end of the Cretaceous period in Africa in fact," said Dr Nick Longrich, a palaeontologist who identified the new species.
Longrich named the smaller contemporary of the North American T. Rex 'Chenanisaurus barbaricus', after the phosphate mines in Morocco's Ouled Abdoun Basin where it was found.
"The teeth hinted at a dinosaur like this and the jaw bone really kind of clinched it," Longrich said.
"They have a much shorter, blunter snout. The arms are actually shorter than those of a T. Rex and where as T. Rex is very bird-like and would have been feathered these things were scaly and T. Rex wasn't particularly intelligent but this thing had a smaller brain than even a T. Rex did. So in many ways it's a much more primitive dinosaur," he said.
Below: photographs of the jaw bone fossil
Longrich said the new dinosaur fills in gaps in our knowledge of the period and helps confirm the theory of mass extinction caused by an asteroid strike 66 million years ago.
Below: Image compares jaws of Chenanisaurus to other dinosaurs
"It's interesting to see evidence confirming that dinosaurs remained successful and the fauna stayed pretty stable up until the end of the Cretaceous period in Africa. So I think there is no evidence as far as I'm concerned of a decline in dinosaur diversity approaching the extinction and if it hadn't been for this accident we would probably still have dinosaurs here today," he said.
Longrich says Chenanisaurus had tiny useless arms, but cannot explain why.
Below: Chenanisaurus teeth
"There are a lot of animals today like flightless birds, like Kiwi birds have these very tiny stumpy little arms they dont do anything -- evolution reduces them and reduces them and reduces them because they're not using them and they're just useless vestiges like your appendix," he said.