Image: Courtesy of Cosmos Studios/MPH Entertainment; computer graphic by Rainbow Studios

Paleontologists working in Egypt's Bahariya Oasis, some 180 miles southwest of Cairo, have unearthed the remains of one of the largest dinosaurs yet discovered, according to findings reported today in the journal Science. The team estimates that the new beast, which they have named Paralititan stromeri, measured around 90 to 100 feet long and weighed up to 80 tonsmaking it a close second to the current record holder, Argentinosaurus.

Paralititan, whose name translates to "tidal giant," isn't the first dinosaur to come out of the Bahariya. In the early 1900s, expeditions led by Bavarian geologist Ernst Stromer retrieved numerous fossils from the region dating back to the Late Cretaceous period, including several dinosaurs. But most of the fossils were lost when the museum that housed them was destroyed during an Allied attack on Munich during World War II. The site remained largely forgotten until Joshua B. Smith, a University of Pennsylvania doctoral student, and his colleagues began exploring the area in 1999. The 94-million-year-old Paralititan, represented by a partial skeleton, is the first dinosaur to be reported from the Bahariya since 1935.

The team recovered Paralititan from fine-grained sediments containing abundant plant remains, including root casts. Fossils of ancient turtles, crocodiles, fish and some of what may be Stromer's lost dinosaurs have also turned up in these deposits. Smith and his co-authors thus propose that this now arid region may once have resembled Florida's tropical mangrove coasts. The researchers further note that, given the large sizes of many of the beasts that inhabited the Bahariya, it must have been a highly productive system. "Along with Paralititan and other big sauropods, we also have three carnivores in this system that are the size of T. rex," Smith remarks. "The amount of biomass in this area had to be enormous to support all that."

With plans to return to the site at the end of this year, the team hopes to uncover additional clues to the life and times of Paralititan. Considering the wealth of fossils that has emerged so far, they will probably succeed. Says Smith, "We may have stumbled on dinosaur heaven at Bahariya."