Guest Videos: Dinosaur Brains and Tilly Edinger

A “game-changing” early mammal fossil was reported in May 2018. To understand why paleontologists are excited about it, you first need to meet paleoneurologist Tilly Edinger.

Dino DNA and cloning are good movie topics, but real-world paleontologists are even more fascinated by how animal brains–particularly those of dinosaurs and mammals–have evolved. Unfortunately, soft tissue like that doesn’t fossilize very well.

Fortunately, evolution always molds bones to fit very closely around the brain and its blood and nerve vessels. It’s possible to make a 3D cast of a fossil brain, if you can find enough pieces of the braincase that fit together.

That’s a big “if,” but it works, thanks to the research of Johanna Gabrielle Ottilie “Tilly” Edinger, who pioneered the technique.

We now know, for instance, that Triceratops wasn’t the brightest dinosaur in the park.

Today’s technology makes this fairly easy, but it must have been challenging in the 1920s and 1930s–even before you factor in the Nazis.

Yes. Nazis. Tilly Edinger’s story is fascinating. Another blogger has already written an excellent biography. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Now back to that little Cretaceous mammal’s skull discovered recently. Three-dimensional paleoneurological studies of it have settled an ongoing controversy about how the lineage that led to marsupials like the kangaroo and placental mammals like us probably originated. Oh, and they also learned that this little critter had a keen sense of smell.

Thanks, Dr. Edinger!

Featured image: Wikimedia


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