The scientists analyzing it may have confirmed that a previous strange finding may just be the first exemplary of a fossilized dinosaur brain ever to be found.
The strange specimen was discovered by a fossil hunter one night, on a beach in Britain. The exemplary was then taken to the University of Oxford’s Martin Brasier, the paleobiologist which confirmed the initial suspicion that this was an endocast.
An endocast is, in a way, a mold of a dinosaur’s skull brain cavity as after the tiny brain spaces were filled with rock. This specific endocast presents a rusty brown color after it was oxidized by minerals.
However, Brasier couldn’t help to notice a number of features which are unique to this exemplary. The fossil presents a network of wrinkles and corrugations, pits, and folds.
According to the scientists, these elements are not specific and could not have been formed based on geologic processes and as such, demanded a closer examination.
The scanning electron microscope analysis presented a number of features very similar to a modern-day reptile and bird brain. For example, the wrinkles were revealed to be similar to modern fibrous bundles which envelop the aforementioned brains.
A network of tiny branching tubes was also observed to run across the outside sections of the fossilized specimen and to go into another, secondary pitted and folded layer. This is a characteristic of the cortex’s gray matter.
As the strange endocast was analyzed by Brasier and a team of scientists for more than a decade, they have decided that the most probable and plausible explanation of the origin of the piece is its being a fossilized dinosaur brain.
It most probably belonged to an Iguanodon, a 133 million-years-old herbivorous dinosaur which lived in the Cretaceous and Jurassic geological periods.
Another member of the research team Alex Liu, who is a University of Cambridge paleontologist, considers that the tubes, folds, and wrinkles presented by the stone represent blood vessels, brain matter, and meninges.
The presence of the tissues could be explained by a complete replacement of each cell by the presence of mineral crystals, which replicated the exact shape and morphology of the original brain matter.
As soft tissue is incredibly hard to preserve and even harder to uncover, the study conclusions sparked a debate after they were released Thursday during the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s annual meeting.
As the specimen was presented as the first ever found fossilized dinosaur brain, this is just the first step taken in order to confirm the theory. After its release into an accessible museum collection, more scientists will be able to analyze and confirm or infirm its origin.
Image Source: Wikimedia