Have you ever wondered what the most dangerous place on earth is? A group of international paleontologists decided to answer that question. Only they went a step further: they went in search of the most dangerous place in the history of the earth. The answer? The Sahara, about 100 million years ago.
Although it now looks mostly dry, arid and desolate in the Sahara – in the south-east of Morocco – it was the empire of the earth’s giants some 100 million years ago. Think of huge predators, flying reptiles and the ancestors of crocodiles. “As a human time traveler, you wouldn’t want to spend long there,” jokes Nizar Ibrahim, a researcher at the University of Chicago.
What kind of gruesome creatures lived in the Sahara? Among other things, fossils of Spinosaurus were found: these are carnivorous dinosaurs that were up to seven meters long and could weigh up to 7,500 kilograms. The impressive Spinosaurus lived side by side with the even larger Carcharodontosaurus: carnivorous dinosaurs that could grow up to 14 meters long and weigh an average of 7,000 kilograms. Finally, fossil remains of the Deltadromeus have been recovered: a slightly smaller dinosaur that would still easily tower over humans.
And what did these impressive animals live on? Since there were numerous rivers flowing through the Sahara at the time, there were many fish (which, by the way, were also a lot larger than today’s fish). “The Coelacanthiformes, for example, were probably four or even five times the size of the current specimens,” explains researcher David Martill. “There was also a huge freshwater shark called Onchopristis with the most terrifying teeth.” The shark had a long snout, which looked a bit like a saw. On the side of that saw were teeth with barbs. The Onchopristis could grow up to six meters long.
That conclusion comes after the most comprehensive study of fossil animals over the past decade. They looked at the fossil finds discovered in rock formations in southeastern Morocco, the so-called ‘Kem Kem Group’. “This is the most extensive work on fossil vertebrates from the Sahara since 1936 when German paleontologist Ernst Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach published his last major study,” said Martill. The result was published in the journal ZooKeys.