Published On: Mon, Dec 14th, 2020

Bristol Dinosaur’s Brain Digitally Recreated by British Scientists

The Thecodontosaurus lived in the late Triassic age some 205 million years ago and was the size of a large dog.

Dinosaur (Unsplash)

The Bristol Dinosaur is the new nickname given to the Thecodontosaurus in honor of scientists from the University of Bristol in England. In their new research the scientists successfully reconstructed the brain of what was one of the earliest dinosaurs using advanced imaging and 3-D modelling techniques.

The Thecodontosaurus lived in the late Triassic age some 205 million years ago and was the size of a large dog. Although its fossils were discovered in the 1800s, many of which are carefully preserved at the University of Bristol, scientists have only very recently been able to deploy imaging software to extract new information without destroying them.

Remember Jurassic Park? In that movie a scientist was able to recreate dinosaurs by growing them in a lab. This was done using dinosaur DNA found preserved in jade. This was really just science fantasy with no real possibility of such technology actually existing. So don’t expect these new findings to lead to the rebirth of dinosaurs. But it does give us a better understanding of how the Bristol Dinosaur lived, what it ate and how it walked.

Paleontologists determined that the Thecodontosaurus may have eaten meat, unlike its giant long-necked later relatives including Diplodocus and Brontosaurus, which only fed on plants. It also may have walked on its hind legs like the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Antonio Ballell, lead author of the study published today in Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, said, “Our analysis of Thecodontosaurus’ brain uncovered many fascinating features, some of which were quite surprising. Whereas its later relatives moved around ponderously on all fours, our findings suggest this species may have walked on two legs and been occasionally carnivorous.”

So how did they succeed in digitally recreating the Bristol Dinosaur’s brain?
3-D models were generated from CT scans by digitally extracting the bone from the rock, identifying anatomical details about its brain and inner ear previously unseen in the fossil.

Bristol Dinosaur University of Bristol

“Even though the actual brain is long gone, the software allows us to recreate brain and inner ear shape via the dimensions of the cavities left behind. The braincase of Thecodontosaurus is beautifully preserved so we compared it to other dinosaurs, identifying common features and some that are specific to Thecodontosaurus,” Antonio said.

The scientists think that the Thecodontosaurus was relatively agile and could move quickly.

Antonio, a PhD student at the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, said: “Our analysis showed parts of the brain associated with keeping the head stable and eyes and gaze steady during movement were well-developed. This could also mean Thecodontosaurus could occasionally catch prey, although its tooth morphology suggests plants were the main component of its diet. It’s possible it adopted omnivorous habits.”

University of Bristol Dinosaur

The researchers were also able to reconstruct the inner ears, allowing them estimate how well it could hear compared to other dinosaurs. Its hearing frequency was relatively high, pointing towards some sort of social complexity – an ability to recognize varied squeaks and honks from different animals.

The new research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Leverhulme Trust and the Royal Society.

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