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9th October 2015

Discovery sheds new light on the minds of dinosaurs

Experts have reconstructed one of the most complete sauropod braincases ever found in Europe
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A recent digital reconstruction of a rare dinosaur braincase has shed new light on inner workings of the dinosaur brain.

The reconstruction and subsequent report centres around the 2007 discovery of a braincase in Eastern Spain’s “Lo Hueco” excavation site. Research has since been conducted on the specimen by a team of researchers led by the University of Manchester’s Dr. Fabien Knoll.

This 72 million-year-old Titanosaur braincase is one of the most complete dinosaur skulls ever unearthed in Europe. Knoll was present for the excavation along with two other authors of the report, Francisco Ortega and Jose Luis Sanz. “In the field,” Knoll told us, “it was not possible to tell that the specimen was so complete.”

Dinosaur braincases are generally not well preserved, and as such we know little about the brain and thus the cognition that occurred in these animals. Knoll explains how “a braincase is the only part of a dinosaur skeleton that allows the reconstruction of a soft organ… and what an organ! The brain no less!”

It is for this reason that this discovery is of such importance, as the reconstruction of the brain provides important glimpses into how these creatures saw, thought, and sensed the world around them.

Following the excavation, Knoll was joined by Ortega, Luis Sanz, and two experts on 3D reconstruction from Ohio University in the United States. After removing any trace material from the specimen, a series of CT scans were conducted on the braincase to begin the difficult process of digital reconstruction.

CT scans such as these are performed in order to visualise the cavities within the braincase and paint a complete picture of the specimen.

Not only did the team do this and completely reconstruct the cavity in which the brain lay, but they have mapped out the passage of the cranial nerves, as well as the inner portion of the ear.

After eight years of work, the team’s findings were published this last week in a journal article in PLOS ONE.

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