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It’s Official: First Dinosaur Brain Fossil Confirmed

Paleontology has chalked up another first: a fossilized dinosaur brain found in 2004 has been confirmed as legitimate.

Jamie Hiscock, an amateur fossil hunter, stumbled onto a small brown item in Bexhill, Sussex in 2004. He could immediately tell that what he was holding was no ordinary rock. He and his brother also found fossilized bits. Hiscock recalls,

I noticed there was something odd about the preservation. It wasn’t until years later that its true significance came to be realized.

Hiscock took his find to Martin Brasier, a paleobiologist at the University of Oxford. Finally, on October 27 of this year, a team of scientists from the University of Cambridge and the University of Western Australia were able to confirm that the fossil was actually the world’s first-ever sample of a preserved dinosaur brain, the University Herald reports.

The brain is believed to have come from an Iguanodon, a gigantic, 30-foot dinosaur that populated the Earth some 133 million years ago. The small pieces the Hiscocks had picked up were also part of the same dinosaur.

Martin Smith, a paleontologist at the University of Durham in the United Kingdom, called the type of brain tissue preservation they found “unbelievably unlikely.” And yet, it’s right there.

The piece of brain tissue was so well-preserved, “pickled” in a highly acidic body of water with low oxygen levels. Scientists theorize that the dinosaur might have fallen into a swamp or a bog of sorts after it died, Quartz reports.

Dr. David Norman from the University of Cambridge says, “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. 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.”

The team used scanning electron (SEM) methods to define the tough membranes or meninges in the fossil sample. A powerful electron microscope uses a beam of electrons to make an image of the specimen, rendering everything in such minute detail that the scientists were also able to study collagen and blood vessels.

Soft-tissue fossils of any kind are very rare. Hiscock now has the sample back, but he’s talking to public museums to get the dinosaur brain displayed.

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