Paleontologists reveal 'The most dangerous place in the history of planet Earth'

April 24, 2020
An artist's drawing of the Kem Kem Group.

An international team of scientists has published a comprehensive review of fossil vertebrates from the Cretaceous of Morocco.

The team assembled the first detailed and fully illustrated account of a fossil-rich escarpment in Morocco’s Sahara Desert, known as the Kem Kem Group.

The 216-page monograph, published in the journal ZooKeys, “Provides a window into Africa’s Age of Dinosaurs” according to lead author Nizar Ibrahim, an assistant professor of Biology at University of Detroit Mercy.

About 100 million years ago the area was home to a vast river system, filled with many different species of aquatic and terrestrial animals, including many giant forms. Fossils from the Kem Kem Group, remarkably, include three of the largest predatory dinosaurs known, as well as several predatory flying reptiles and crocodile-like hunters.

“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,” Ibrahim said.

Many of the predators were relying on an abundant supply of fish.

“This place was filled with absolutely enormous fish, including giant coelacanths and lungfish,” said co-author David Martill from the University of Portsmouth. “There is also an enormous freshwater saw fish called Onchopristis with the most fearsome of rostral teeth, they are like barbed daggers, but beautifully shiny.”

Assembling the vast datasets needed for this project, which began with Ibrahim’s Ph.D. work at the University College Dublin, was a monumental task. In addition to leading multiple collecting expeditions to the Sahara, Ibrahim spent years visiting museum and university collections on several continents.

“This monograph is going to be an important resource for palaeontologists, geologists and evolutionary biologists for many years to come,” Ibrahim said.

The international team included researchers from Detroit Mercy, University of Chicago, Montana State, Portsmouth (United Kingdom), Leicester (United Kingdom), Casablanca (Morocco) and McGill (Canada), as well as the Paris Museum of Natural History (France).