Scientists digitally reconstruct dinosaur brain

Rebuild it

After digitally reconstructing the brain of a Thecodontosaurus, also known as the Bristol dinosaur, scientists learned that they were probably completely wrong about how the dinosaur lived.

Scientists have learned a lot about dinosaurs through fossils. But a team took it a step further by peering into the skull to digitally reconstruct the brain, giving them a new level of insight into the animal’s life, according to research released Monday in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. It is a fascinating example of scientists updating their understanding of a subject as new technology develops, rather than drawing conclusions about a species based on its physical structure alone.

Update history

A team from the University of Bristol made detailed 3D scans of the cavity where the dinosaur’s brain had once lain in a well-preserved fossil. Scientists have long assumed that the dinosaur the size of a dog walked on all fours and fed only on plants, just like its relatives the Diplodocus and Brontosaurus. But based on the size and shape of the brain, the scientists now hypothesize that Thecodontosaurus walked on two legs and sometimes ate meat.

“Our analysis of Thecodontosaurus brain revealed many fascinating features, some of which were quite surprising,” said lead author and Antonio Ballell in a press release. “While its later relatives moved heavily on all fours, our findings suggest that this species walked on two legs and was occasionally carnivorous.”

Careful excavation

The new scanning technique allowed the scientists to take a closer look at the fossil without actually breaking it open like a piggy bank, which had been an obstacle for a long time.

“Even though the actual brain has long since disappeared, the software allows us to mimic the shape of the brain and inner ear through the dimensions of the leftover cavities,” Ballell said. “Thecodontosaurus’ braincase has been beautifully preserved, so we compared it to other dinosaurs, identifying common features and some specific to Thecodontosaurus.”

READ MORE: Research reveals unexpected insights into the brains, eating habits and agility of early dinosaurs [University of Bristol]

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