A dinosaur-hunting expedition to the Sahara desert involving British scientists has found the fossilized remains of what are thought to be two new species.
The ancient remains discovered in Morocco belong to a giant flying pterosaur and plant-eating sauropod. Initial examinations suggest that both specimens are unknown to science.
They were unearthed during a month-long quest during which the research team braved floods and storms to reach the dig site and then preserve the fossils.
The scientists even feared that they would never get the bones out of the desert because they were so heavy that their Land Rover became stuck in sand.
Nizar Ibrahim, of University College Dublin, a leader of the project, said: "There was a point when we wondered if we would make it out of the desert with the [sauropod] bone, but we had worked so hard to find it there was no way I was leaving it behind. It took us five days to get the bone out of the ground and down the mountain — and that was not the end of our problems."
The first fossil is the beak of a pterosaur, a giant flying reptile that lived about 100 million years ago. Such discoveries are unusual because pterosaur bones were light and fragile, to be adapted to flight, and few fossilized well.
Ibrahim, a doctoral student, said: "Most pterosaur discoveries are just fragments of teeth and bone so it was thrilling to find a large part of a beak and this was enough to tell us we probably have a new species."
The second significant discovery was a leg bone more than three feet long that belonged to an unknown species of sauropod — the group of long-necked plant-eaters that includes the diplodocus. The animal would have been almost 65 feet long.