An unusual rock found on a beach is a dinosaur’s fossilized brain, paleontologists say. How did a squishy thing turn to stone?
The answer, according to Alex Liu, member of a Cambridge team that re-analyzed the rock found in 2004, is that “the brain tissue was effectively pickled before it was mineralised, probably after the dinosaur died in a highly acidic and low-oxygen body of water.” He continues in The Conversation,
The soft tissues were preserved by phosphate and iron minerals, and CT (computed tomography) scans show the fossil also contains sediment, as well as fragments of leaves, twigs and bone.
Taken together, these observations create a picture of the dinosaur dying in a well-vegetated, swampy environment. Its head probably became buried in the sediment on a river– or lake-bed, and the lack of oxygen allowed the brain tissues to mineralise before they had a chance to decay.
While it is not surprising to find that dinosaurs had brains, it is remarkable that these tissues can be preserved for so many millions of years.
The revelations about this pickled brain rock have been widely reported, for instance by Science Daily, New Scientist, and Live Science. National Geographic is calling it the “first known dinosaur brain fossil discovered.” A detailed scenario of how the animal became buried, allowing its soft tissue to be lithified, is provided on Vox.com.
Of particular interest are the delicate features that have been preserved. Liu writes,
This revealed evidence of the dinosaur’s meninges, the tough, collagenous outer membranes that protect the main brain. It also showed up tiny blood vessels preserved as tubes running across the surface of the specimen. There are even hints of deeper tissues that may have formed part of the brain cortex, the functional part of the brain that contains neurons.
From these structures, Liu infers that dinosaurs were smarter than scientists used to think they were. In a related article, Science Daily says that scientists’ views of dinosaurs as solitary creatures that ate everything in sight have changed. Some species were gregarious, they say, and had more of a social life than commonly understood.
It took years of analysis and delays in publication to bring the story to press. Liu describes how this brain fossil was found back in 2004.
The fossilised brain was found by a collector on a beach near Bexhill in Sussex, England. It preserves brain tissue of a large herbivorous dinosaur similar to Iguanodon, one of the first dinosaur species to be identified. Found among rocks laid down during the early Cretaceous Period around 133m years ago, the fossil is an endocast, formed as layers of sediment gradually filled up the skull.
Endocast fossils have been found before but what is unusual about this specimen is that the outer millimetre or so of the brain tissues themselves were mineralised. This means the fossil records some of the fine structure of the original tissues.
The giant titanosaurs are surprising scientists, too. By piecing together bones from different continents, scientists are surmising that the giant beasts must have crossed Antarctica to get to Australia, National Geographic says. The BBC News explains, “This became possible because of the arrangement of the continents and changes in the global climate.” The south pole’s continent was not covered in ice back then. Scientific American says, “While Dinosaurs Romped, Birdsongs Filled the Air in Balmy Antarctica.” Therein lies a “huge surprise,” this article says: “Preserved among the fragile fossilized bones of this prehistoric bird there were pieces of soft tissue, specifically a section of the trachea and a series of rings that make up a syrinx.” Judging by the nature of this vocal organ, they suspect the bird could have made “the honking sounds of its living relatives,” such as ducks and geese. An artist’s rendition shows a pretty modern-looking swimmer.
This research is also important because it reveals that birds such as V. iaai—which, despite having mostly terrestrial habits, could tolerate long periods underwater—were already highly specialized toward the end of the nonavian dinosaur era, when they wandered among the large creatures. “It shows that before the mass extinction that wiped out many of the dinosaurs on Earth along with two thirds of all living species, birds were already diversified,” Novas concludes. “And somehow, Vegavis managed to survive.”
Now that Liu and his colleague Martin Brasier of Oxford know that the soft brains of dinosaurs can fossilize, they think paleontologists should go and search through their collections for more.
The guy found this delicate brain fossil on a beach. How lucky was that? Think about 65 million years or more of continents moving and erosion in the evolutionary tale, and someone stumbles upon it just a few years ago? It makes much more sense without the obligatory millions of years.
Creation investigator Dr. Carl Werner has spent decades documenting “living fossils,” animals that appear identical or nearly identical to fossils said to be many millions of years old. In conversations with radio host Bob Enyart (see kgov.com), he reveals that he has found published evidence of parrots, flamingos, sandpipers and ducks found buried with dinosaur bones. But the DOPE museums have a narrative: “the age of dinosaurs.” To maintain the narrative before the public, they play tricks with the evidence. For one, they give fossils different species names and genus names even if they look identical to modern counterparts. For another, they put the contemporary species in other wings of the museum, so that they are not pictured with the dinosaurs in the dinosaur exhibits. He has found over 80 mammals whose fossils show that they were living when dinosaurs were alive. Werner’s book and DVD are worth studying. For starters, hear him speak on one of Enyart’s radio programs from 2012.
We notice also with great interest how the findings reported here show evidence of rapid burial in water before soft, delicate tissues could decay. It’s not clear if the soft tissue in the bird syrinx reported by NG was permineralized (replaced with stone), but even if not, it’s remarkable that details that small and smaller, including the tiny capillaries in the brain, would be preserved. Nothing like that happens today when an animal dies.