Scientists find the first known dinosaur brain tissue fossil

Scans show that it resembles that of modern birds and reptiles.

Jamie Hiscocks

That lump you see above many not look like much at first blush, but it's a big deal for paleontology: scientists say they have discovered that the sample has the first known example of a dinosaur brain tissue fossil. The team used a scanning electron microscope to detect mineralized blood vessels, collagen, membranes and possibly brain cortex in the remains of an iguanodonid that lived about 133 million years ago. The findings suggest that the dino's brain had a lot in common with those of modern birds and reptiles. Instead of completely filling the cranial cavity, the brain matter significant space for blood vessels and sinuses.

Researchers may understand more about the evolutionary link through technology, too. While the team has already conducted a CT scan, there are hopes of performing future 3D scans that help compare the iguanodontid's brain to that of present-day creatures.

Don't expect to see too many discoveries like this in the future. The scientists believe they got lucky -- they theorize that the dinosaur's brain was preserved in highly acidic water (possibly from a bog or swamp), protecting its form before the whole animal was buried. However, the revelation may prompt other paleontologists to revisit fossils they already have in case they missed something.