A new species of giant, long-necked dinosaurs, believed to be a member of the sauropods has been discovered. Recently uncovered fossils of the new dinosaur species, named Shingopana songwensis derived from the Swahili term "shingopana" for "wide neck," which date back to the Cretaceous Period, were unearthed in the Songwe region of the Great Rift Valley in southwestern Tanzania.

The newly discovered dinosaur species, a kind of the titanosaurian dinosaur species, walked the Earth around 70 to 100 million years ago. Part of the Shingopana's fossils were excavated in 2002 by scientists affiliated with the Rukwa Rift Basin Project, as part of an international effort led by Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine researchers Patrick O'Connor and Nancy Stevens.

Later, more portions of the dinosaur's skeletons, including its neck vertebrae, ribs, a humerus and part of the lower jaw were uncovered later.

"There are anatomical features present only in Shingopana and in several South American titanosaurs, but not in other African titanosaurs," said the research's lead author Eric Gorscak, a paleontologist at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. "Shingopana had siblings in South America, whereas other African titanosaurs were only distant cousins."

Shingopana songwensis dinosaur
Wide shot of the southwestern Tanzania locality from which the new dinosaur was excavated Eric Roberts

Researchers' analysis of the fossils revealed that Shingopana was related more closely to South American titanosaurs than any other species known to be from Africa or anywhere else.

"This discovery suggests that the fauna of northern and southern Africa were very different in the Cretaceous Period," said Judy Skog, a program director in NSF's Division of Earth Sciences, which supported the research. "At that time, southern Africa dinosaurs were more closely related to those in South America, and were more widespread than we knew."

"We're still only scratching the surface of understanding the diversity of organisms, and the environments in which they lived, on the African continent during the Late Cretaceous," said O'Connor.

The new research has been published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Shingopana songwensis dinosaur
Excavation of Shingopana songwensis showing ribs and other bones being prepared for plaster-jacketing Nancy Stevens