A small fossil which resembles the brain structures of a dinosaur was found in a tidal pool located in the town of Bexhill, in southern England, UK. It was spied by a collector on a beach in the United Kingdom in 2004 and is believed to belonged to a close relative of the Iguanodons, herbivorous dinosaurs that lived about 133 million years ago during the Early Cretaceous Period.
In a study published by the Geological Society of London, researchers found evidence chunk of petrified brain tissue. The roughly 133-million-year-old fossil preserves the brain’s wrinkled topology, said paleontologist David Norman, who presented the find October 27 at the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
“There are pits and creases and folds,” said Norman, of the University of Cambridge. “It’s a little bit like your bed when you wake up in the morning — somewhat crinkled and folded,” he added.
According to Phys.Org, in order to visualize very small features of the fossil brain, Professor Martin Brasier, of the University of Oxford who led the early work on this fossil, before his untimely death in 2014, brought in researchers from the University of Western Australia to obtain high resolution images of parts of the brain, revealing its outer layers (meninges) as well as remnants of capillaries (tiny blood vessels) within the cortex of the brain itself. The brain structure and in particular the arrangement of meninges shows a remarkable similarity to modern birds and crocodilians, and likely functioned in fairly similar ways.
Soft tissue is unusual in the fossil record, Norman said. The dinosaur probably tipped head first into a muddy swamp, where acidic water “literally pickled” the brain, he added. Later, minerals would have petrified the pickled tissue. Soft tissue includes tendons, ligaments, fascia, skin, fibrous tissues, fat, and synovial membranes (which are connective tissue), and muscles, nerves and blood vessels (which are not connective tissue).
Instances like these newfound fossils are particularly rare, which means this discovery can provide a unique insight into a dinosaur's brain. The resulting fossil doesn’t offer insight into “the mind of dinosaurs,” Norman said, but it does provide “remarkable preservation” of a piece of the brain itself.