The fossil was discovered by hunter Jamie Hiscocks from Sussex in southeastern England who caught it in the glow of his flashlight while prowling a British beach. The specimen is a lumpy brown rock, no bigger than the size of an orange.
Hiscocks brought the fossil to University of Oxford paleobiologist Martin Brasier, who then reached out to David Norman, an expert on Iguanodons. The two scientists spent years debating what the fossil represents. In 2014, Norman sent a letter explaining his interpretation of the rock, but did not get a reply from Braiser. It turned out that the reason why is because the paleobiologist was killed in a car accident on Dec. 16, 2014.
The skull came from an Iguanodon and is believed to be about 133 million years old. A detailed CT scan shows remnants of outer layers of neural tissues, blood vessels strands and collagen networks which were preserved by the natural pickling process.
Dr Alex Liu, a palaeobiologist at the University of Cambridge and co-author of the research said that the brain tissues are "are amongst the least likely tissues we would expect to ever be found in a fossilized terrestrial vertebrate. It seems that the brain in this dinosaur was therefore more similar to that of modern birds, in that it filled a greater proportion of the braincase."
Notably, no other scientist has uncovered a fossil brain from a dinosaur, so it is not surprising that discovery raised some eyebrows during its presentation on Thursday at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. But Liu said that he and his colleagues spent a decade examining the fossil and this is the best interpretation that they can come up with.
"The wrinkles and folds and pits and grooves... the tubular structures that look like blood vessels - those are very difficult to explain in any other way," Liu said.