A fossil discovered on a Sussex beach more than a decade ago has been confirmed as a ‘pickled’ dinosaur brain.
Now scientists from Oxford and Cambridge University have shared these fascinating pictures with explanations.
The unassuming brown pebble found more than a decade ago by a fossil hunter Jamie Hiscocks on a Bexhill beach is the first example of fossilised brain tissue from a dinosaur, that lived 133 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous period.
Oxford and Cambridge university scientists believe it belongs to a species closely related to Iguanodon, a large herbivores which had a long tail for balance and hind legs that were longer than their fore limbs.
The find has been described as ‘astonishing’ by scientists.
“The chances of preserving brain tissue are incredibly small,” said co-author Dr Alex Liu of Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences.
“The reason this particular piece of brain tissue has been so well-preserved is that the dinosaur’s brain was essentially ‘pickled’ in a highly acidic and low-oxygen bog or swamp shortly after its death.”
This allowed the soft tissues to become mineralised before they decayed.
“What we think happened is that this particular dinosaur died in or near a body of water, and its head ended up partially buried in the sediment at the bottom,” said Dr David Norman, who helped co-ordinate the research alongside the late Professor Martin Brasier.
“Since the water had little oxygen and was very acidic, the soft tissues of the brain were likely preserved and cast before the rest of its body was buried in the sediment.”
It was most likely that during death the head of this dinosaur became overturned, so that as the brain decayed, gravity caused it to collapse and become pressed against the bony roof of the cavity.
Dr Norman said: “As we can’t see the lobes of the brain itself, we can’t say for sure how big this dinosaur’s brain was.
“Of course, it’s entirely possible that dinosaurs had bigger brains than we give them credit for, but we can’t tell from this specimen alone.
“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.”
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