Studies of exceptional preservation
It has become accepted in recent years that the fossil record can preserve labile tissues. We report here the highly detailed mineralization of soft tissues associated with a naturally occurring brain endocast of an iguanodontian dinosaur found in c. 133 Ma fluvial sediments of the Wealden at Bexhill, Sussex, UK. Moulding of the braincase wall and the mineral replacement of the adjacent brain tissues by phosphates and carbonates allowed the direct examination of petrified brain tissues. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) imaging and computed tomography (CT) scanning revealed preservation of the tough membranes (meninges) that enveloped and supported the brain proper. Collagen strands of the meningeal layers were preserved in collophane. The blood vessels, also preserved in collophane, were either lined by, or infilled with, microcrystalline siderite. The meninges were preserved in the hindbrain region and exhibit structural similarities with those of living archosaurs. Greater definition of the forebrain (cerebrum) than the hindbrain (cerebellar and medullary regions) is consistent with the anatomical and implied behavioural complexity previously described in iguanodontian-grade ornithopods. However, we caution that the observed proximity of probable cortical layers to the braincase walls probably resulted from the settling of brain tissues against the roof of the braincase after inversion of the skull during decay and burial.
Supplementary material: Information regarding associated fossil material, and additional images, can be found at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3519984
Gold Open Access: This article is published under the terms of the CC-BY 3.0 license.