A nearly complete, well-preserved maxilla of an abelisaurid theropod from the early Late Cretaceous (middle Cenomanian-Turonian) Lower Member of the Bajo Barreal Formation of Chubut, Argentina represents the first definitive member of the abelisaurid clade from pre-Senonian (Coniacian–Maastrichtian) deposits. The new maxilla shares derived characters with the maxillae of Carnotaurus and Majungatholus, and with AMNH 1955, a maxilla previously referred to Indosuchus, suggesting that it pertains to the abelisaurid subclade Carnotaurinae. Abelisaurus shares apomorphic characters with Carnotaurinae, but many of these characters are also found in the carcharodontosaurid allosauroid Giganotosaurus. As it is known only from cranial material lacking carnotaurine synapomorphies, Abelisaurus may represent a late-surviving carcharodontosaurid derivative.
The presence of the Bajo Barreal predator in the early Late Cretaceous indicates that the origin of Abelisauridae had occurred by then. The occurrence of the new maxilla is nearly concurrent with the accepted interval of tectonic divergence between South America and Africa. Its discovery thus weakens support for the recent hypothesis that the abelisaurid clade could not have penetrated Africa. The known occurrence of Abelisauridae may reflect a former pan-Gondwanan distribution, and is thus of limited utility in the support of Late Cretaceous paleogeographic hypotheses.