World's first fossilised dinosaur brain found on UK beach

Traces of organic matter dating back 133 million years could unlock mysteries of dinosaur intelligence

Scientists have confirmed a small fossil found on a Sussex beach contains pieces of a 133-million-year-old dinosaur brain.

The fossil appears indistinguishable from a common pebble, but eagle-eyed collector Jamie Hiscocks spotted it in a rock pool in Bexhill, East Sussex, in 2004 and passed it on to palaeontologists.

After ten years of research, scientists have said they believe it is a one-of-a-kind discovery – the first ever traces of fossilised dinosaur brain.

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The findings were announced yesterday at the annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Palaeontology in Salt Lake City, Utah.


Like many fossils, the original organic matter has decayed over time, leaving behind a distinctive hollow impression called an endocast. This in itself is useful for palaeontologists as it helps them to assess the size and shape of the matter of the original organism.

Researchers studying this fossil have also detected microscopic traces of mineralised brain matter belonging to the meninges, the thin, protective tissue that covers the outside of the brain.

Using X-rays and scanning tunnelling microscopy, an advanced imaging technology, they have been able to examine the structure of the dinosaur's outer brain tissue in minute detail, The Guardian reports.

Scientists believe it belongs to a dinosaur similar to the iguanodon, a large herbivore that lived during the early Cretaceous era.

Although more work is needed before any definite conclusions can be made, the researchers believe "the animal was at least as smart as modern crocodilians".

Past theories relating to the cerebral make-up and intelligence of dinosaurs have been speculative and largely reliant on comparisons with modern birds or reptiles. The discovery of actual dinosaur brain tissue unlocks a new realm of possibilities.

"It never really occurred to me that there could be mineralisation of the tissues in that area because the brain is so fragile," palaeontologist David Norman, of the University of Cambridge, who worked on the fossil, told National Geographic.

"That is the nearest I suspect we're ever going to get to the whole [brain]."

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