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In Images: Fossilized Dinosaur Brain Tissue

How big is a dinosaur brain

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(Image credit: Jamie Hiscocks)

Paleontologists may never know what was going on in dinosaurs' noggins, but they just got one step closer to understanding the ancient beasts with the first-ever discovery of brain tissue from a dinosaur. Though some dinosaurs are believed to have sported quite large brains, namely those that led to modern birds, the researchers said this particular fossil does not display such size. [Read the full story on the dinosaur brain tissue]

Fossilized brain or pebble

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(Image credit: Jamie Hiscocks)

The fossilized brain looked like an unassuming brown pebble when a fossil hunter in Sussex, England, found it more than a decade ago.

Pickled brain becomes rock

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(Image credit: University of Cambridge)

A photograph and digital rendering of the fossil highlight the construction of the specimen. The researchers said the brain was essentially pickled when the dinosaur died, allowing for fossilization of the soft tissue, which degrades faster than other types of organic material.

Dinosaur brain fossil timeline

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(Image credit: University of Cambridge)

The researchers outlined the time sequence of how the small piece of dinosaur brain tissue became the pebble-looking fossil. Despite fossilization and erosion, they were able to identify different structures within the tissue.

Fossil architecture

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(Image credit: University of Cambridge)

Computer reconstructuions of the fossil architecture separate the fossilized tissue from bone fragments and sediment infill.

Biology of a brain fossil

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(Image credit: University of Cambridge)

Illustrating the biological context for the brain tissue, the researchers detail what part of the dinosaur's brain the tissue came from. Based on the structures seen in the fossilized brain, the researchers said it is consistent with modern reptiles.

Structures in the fossilized brain

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(Image credit: University of Cambridge)

Images produced from a scanning electron microscope, which captures fine detail by moving a beam of electrons over an object, revealed different structures within the fossilized brain tissue. The researchers could out meninges (tissue that surrounds the brain), strands of collagen and blood vessels, and structures that could be from the brain's cortex (the outer layer of the brain).

Inside the Iguanodon

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(Image credit: University of Cambridge)

An artistic rendering of an iguanodontian dinosaur's head shows the dorsal braincase and associated soft tissue features determined through examination of the fossil.