Ending a twelve-year saga, the first known dinosaur brain fossil has presented to the public.
The discovery was in a special edition Earth System Evolution and Early Life, subtitled a Celebration of the Work of Martin Brasier. Brasier, an Oxford paleontologist who died suddenly in a , had been working closely on confirming that the fossil found in 2006 of an 113-million year old iguanodontian dinosaur was in fact soft brain tissue.
Jamie Hiscocks, owner of a fossil-sale business in England, first made the discovery in Bexhill, fifty or so miles southeast of London. Looking to see if a recent storm had caused anything to rise to the surface, he was struck by the unusually shaped object. Nabbing it, he sent an email off to Brasier.
"Martin knew immediately we had something special here, so I agreed to loan the specimen to him," Hiscocks tells National Geogrpahic. "In his initial email to me, he asked if I'd ever heard of dinosaur brain cells being preserved in the fossil record. I knew exactly what he was getting at."
Brasier was in the midst of friendly debate over the fossil with colleagues when he died. It took a graduate student of his, Alex Liu, going through his papers months later to discover the find. Resuming work on the sample, Liu and paleontologist worked through the dinosaur's meninges, sturdy membranes meant to protect the brain. They found mineralized networks of blood vessels, and even the traces of the brain's cortex. "That is the nearest I suspect we're ever going to get to the whole [brain]," Norman tells NatGeo.
While the fossil itself is probably "an interesting one-off," according to Norman, it should force many to reexamine their old collections. "It never really occurred to me that there could be mineralization of the tissues in that area, because the brain is so fragile," he says. "It's putting a flag up the pole."