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Jamie Hiscocks
Jamie Hiscocks

Scientists Say They've Discovered Fossilized Dinosaur Brain

Jamie Hiscocks
Jamie Hiscocks

Researchers may have found something extraordinary inside a plain-looking pebble: fossilized dinosaur brain. They described their findings [PDF] in a special publication from the Geological Society of London. 

Twelve years ago, fossil hunter and paper co-author Jamie Hiscocks was looking through an exposed sandstone riverbed in Sussex, England, when he spotted a round brown stone. Hiscocks brought the rock to the attention of renowned paleobiologist Martin Brasier at the University of Cambridge. The two men immediately began speculating on the rock’s contents.

“I noticed there was something odd about the preservation,” Hiscocks said in a statement, “and soft tissue preservation did go through my mind. Martin realized its potential significance right at the beginning.”

Brasier and colleagues at the University of Cambridge and the University of Western Australia began exploring the mysterious rock from every imaginable angle. They put it through a computed tomography (CT) scanner to look inside and examined its smallest details using super-high-powered microscopes.

What they found astounded them. The nondescript-looking rock, they say, concealed the remains of some prehistoric animal’s brain. Close-up images revealed fragments from the supportive membrane surrounding the brain, plus blood vessels and cortices from within.

The arrows point to blood vessels in the meninges, or supportive membrane. Image Credit: David Norman

The team believes the brain may have belonged to an iguanodon-like dinosaur that lived in the Early Cretaceous period around 133 million years ago. The fact that the chunk of brain has lasted this long is “astonishing,” said co-author Alex Liu.

The researchers say the brain’s owner likely met its demise in or near a body of water. It probably then became at least partially submerged and buried in sediment at the bottom, where acidic water and a lack of oxygen helped preserve the tissue.

"As we can't see the lobes of the brain itself, we can't say for sure how big this dinosaur's brain was," co-author David Norman said. "What's truly remarkable is that conditions were just right in order to allow preservation of the brain tissue—hopefully this is the first of many such discoveries."

However, some paleontologists are reserving judgment about the fossil until further research is done, including the American Museum of Natural History's Mark Norell, who told NPR he is "not convinced" the find is a dinosaur brain.

Martin Brasier did not live to see the results of this research, but the team's report on their findings was published in a special volume dedicated to his life and work.
 
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CHLOE EFFRON / DINOSAURS: ISTOCK
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Why Are There No More Dinosaurs?
CHLOE EFFRON / DINOSAURS: ISTOCK
CHLOE EFFRON / DINOSAURS: ISTOCK

WHY? is our attempt to answer all the questions every little kid asks. Do you have a question? Send it to why@mentalfloss.com.

Actually, there are still dinosaurs: Birds! But let’s talk about that a little later. Scientists have found clues in rocks and fossils that tell us that by 65 million years ago, the climate (CLY-met), or usual weather, of the Earth had changed a lot, becoming cooler and drier. That was hard on the heat-loving dinosaurs. But that’s not why almost all of the dinosaurs became extinct, or disappeared forever. Scientists think a terrible event occurred that killed them off.

In 1991, scientists discovered a huge 110-mile-long crater, or hole, in the Gulf of Mexico. They think this crater was made by a giant, fiery, 6-mile-wide asteroid (AST-er-oyd) from space that smashed into the Earth about 65 million years ago. The impact was more powerful than any bomb we have ever known. Scientists believe this event killed most plant and animal life—including the dinosaurs. The asteroid probably caused shockwaves, earthquakes, fireballs, wildfires, and tidal, or really big, waves. It also sent huge amounts of dust and gas into the atmosphere, which is like a big blanket of air that surrounds the Earth. That was really bad for the planet.

The dust blocked sunlight, making the planet very cold and dark. Then, over time, the gases trapped heat, causing the Earth to get even hotter than it was before the asteroid hit. This change was deadly for most dinosaurs, and they became extinct. But birds survived. Many millions of years earlier, they had evolved (ee-VOL-ved), or changed slowly over time, from one group of dinosaurs. And when the dinosaurs disappeared, mammals diversified (die-VERSE-uh-fide), or changed, into many different kinds of animals—including us, many millions of years later. So the next time you see a bird swoop by, wave hello to the little flying dinosaur!    


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Creative Beasts
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Animals
These Scientifically Accurate Dinosaur Toys Are Ready to Rule Your Desk
Creative Beasts
Creative Beasts

In May 2016, we told you about Beasts of the Mesozoic, a line of Kickstarter-backed dinosaur toys that would reflect the feathery truth about the mighty beasts and provide an alternative to the Hollywood-enhanced glamour of the Jurassic Park franchise.

Then, absolutely nothing happened. Having being fully funded on the crowd-sourced platform, Beasts seemed to be mired in production issues. Now, nearly two years after designer David Silva announced the project, the toys are finally ready to hit shelves.

A Beasts of the Mesozoic action figure in retail packaging
Creative Beasts

The Beasts line will initially consist of 11 figures due to ship this month, with six more expected to arrive in May. Included in the first wave are Velociraptor mongoliensis, Atrociraptor marshalli, Balaur bondoc, Dromaeosaurus albertensis, Zhenyuanlong suni, Pyroraptor olympus, Linheraptor exquisitus, Velociraptor osmolskae (red), FC (Fan’s Choice) Dromaeosaurus albertensis, FC Pyroraptor olympus, and FC Zhenyuanlong suni.

In his updates, Silva said the delay was due in large part to how quickly the scope of the line grew. At the time the campaign started, he was planning on just three figures that would ship by May 2017. By the end, he had 25 items, including accessory packs.

You can pre-order the first wave ($35 to $40 each) at BackerKit.

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