According to a new paper published in the Special Publication of the Geological Society of London magazine, researchers managed to find a fossilized dinosaur brain. This is the first sample of brain tissue that survived throughout the years, the finding having a large impact on the understanding of the giant reptiles.
The discovery in itself is not new. 12 years ago, Jamie Hiscocks, a Sussex fossil hunter stumbled upon the sample. He took it to Martin Brasier, a paleobiologist at Oxford University where Brasier confirmed that it was an endocast. Endocasts are the rarest types of fossils. They form when a dinosaur’s cranial cavity is filled with sediment or rock, thus making a mold of the brain cavity.
The fossilized dinosaur brain is no bigger than an average orange. Researchers believe that it belonged to an iguanodon, a species of herbivorous dinosaur that lived on the planet roughly 133 million years ago.
Brasier was not only excited about the discovery of an endocast, which is a very rare fossil but also because the sample featured some irregular indents and grooves on its surface. Using a scanning electron microscope, the paleontologist succeeded in identifying a connection between the bundles on the fossil and those who occur in the brains of modern birds and reptiles.
The researcher passed away in 2014, but his study was published post-mortem as a tribute to his whole career.
David Norman, iguanodon expert and former collaborator of Brasier, declared that the fossil fits in an iguanodon skull perfectly.
By analyzing the fossil with both computer tomography and SEM, Norman and his team managed to discover signs of capillaries, blood vessels, and even meninges. The scans showed the cavity was not only filled with brain tissue but also charcoal, sticks, and rocks, a sign that the animal probably died near a large body of water.
According to the researchers, the Iguanodon was trapped in deep water soon after its death, its skull being stuck in the sediments. Due to the high acidity and low levels of oxygen, the brain was pickled, remaining intact after millions of years.
The co-authors of the study believe that more research is needed on the subject.
Image source: Wikipedia