Dinosaur fossils are exceptionally rare in the Arabian Peninsula but researchers have uncovered the first record of dinosaurs from Arabia itself.

What is now dry desert was once a beach littered with the bones and teeth of ancient marine reptiles and dinosaurs. A string of vertebrae from the tail of a huge "Brontosaurus-like" sauropod, together with some shed teeth from a carnivorous theropod represent the first formally identified dinosaur fossils from Arabia, and were found in the north-western part of the dictatorship run by the Al-Saud family, along the coast of the Red Sea.

The remains were discovered during excavations conducted by a team of scientists working under the auspices of the Saudi Geological Survey, Jeddah. 
When these dinosaurs were alive, the Arabian landmass was largely underwater and formed the north-western coastal margin of the African continent.
 The teeth and bones are approximately 72 million years old. 

  




Isolated tooth evidences the first identifiable carnivorous theropod dinosaur from the Arabian Peninsula. Abelisaurids like this specimen have been found in the ancient Gondwanan landmasses of North Africa, Madagascar and South America. Credit: Maxim Leonov (Palaeontological Institute, Moscow).

"Dinosaur fossils are exceptionally rare in the Arabian Peninsula, with only a handful of highly fragmented bones documented this far" says Dr Benjamin Kear, based at Uppsala University in Sweden and lead author of the study. "This discovery is important not only because of where the remains were found, but also because of the fact that we can actually identify them. Indeed, these are the first taxonomically recognizable dinosaurs reported from the Arabian Peninsula."

Two types of dinosaur were described from the assemblage, a bipedal meat-eating abelisaurid distantly related to Tyrannosaurus but only about six metres long, and a plant-eating titanosaur perhaps up to 20 metres in length.

Similar dinosaurs have been found in North Africa, Madagascar and as far away as South America.





Tail vertebrae from Arabia's first described giant titanosaurid sauropod. This dinosaur was probably in excess of 20 m long when alive. Photograph: Tim Holland (Kronosaurus Korner, Richmond).


Citation: Benjamin P. Kear, Thomas H. Rich, Patricia Vickers-Rich, Mohammed A. Ali, Yahya A. Al-Mufarreh, Adel H. Matari, Abdu M. Al-Massari, Abdulaziz H. Nasser, Yousry Attia, Mohammed A. Halawani, 'First Dinosaurs from Saudi Arabia', PLOS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0084041