The Sahara was the most dangerous place on Earth 100 million years ago, according to scientists.
A team of international researchers has found that the African desert region was once home to “ferocious predators” including flying reptiles and crocodile-like hunters living in a vast river system.
The biggest review in almost 100 years of fossils from Cretaceous rock formations in south-eastern Morocco, known as the Kem Kem Group, has found that three of the largest predatory dinosaurs lived there.
These included the sabre-toothed Carcharodontosaurus which was more than eight metres long with enormous jaws and long, serrated teeth up to 20cm in length.
Also living there was the eight-metre-long Deltadromeus, a member of the raptor family with long, slender hind limbs, as well as the predatory flying reptiles pterosaurs and crocodile-like hunters.
An artist’s impression of the Sahara 100 million years ago © University of Portsmouth/PA
Dr Nizar Ibrahim, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Detroit Mercy and visiting researcher from the University of Portsmouth, said: “This was arguably the most dangerous place in the history of planet Earth, a place where a human time-traveller would not last very long.”
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Co-author of the report published in the journal ZooKeys, Professor David Martill, from the University of Portsmouth, explained the predators relied on an abundant supply of fish.
He explained: “This place was filled with absolutely enormous fish, including giant coelacanths and lungfish.
“The coelacanth, for example, is probably four or even five times large than today’s coelacanth.
“There is an enormous freshwater saw shark called onchopristis with the most fearsome of rostral teeth – they are like barbed daggers, but beautifully shiny.”
Reader Q&A: If the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct, could they have developed a civilised society?
Asked by: Henry Sykes, via email
The asteroid strike that killed off all dinosaurs (except for birds) took place 66 million years ago. We know that many species of dinosaur were still thriving at that time. These included small, fast, deadly ‘raptors’ such as Velociraptor, which had big brains and keen senses, and were probably as smart as dogs and cats are today.
If they didn’t die, but instead kept evolving, they may have developed even bigger brains and keener senses. And given millions of years of evolution, perhaps they would have taken the path of primates, eventually developing tool use, sophisticated communication, and even complex societies. We’ll never know, but it’s theoretically possible!