Here is an edited 2018 post about a clever paleoneurologist!
A “game-changing” Cretaceous mammal fossil was reported in May 2018. To understand why paleontologists are excited about it, you first need to meet 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 early mammals — have evolved.
Unfortunately, soft tissue like that quickly decays after the animal’s death.
However, evolution always molds bones to fit very closely around the brain and its blood and nerve vessels. It’s therefore possible to make a cast of the fossil brain, if you can fit together enough pieces of the bony skull that once surrounded it.
Johanna Gabrielle Ottilie “Tilly” Edinger pioneered this technique.
It’s fascinating work, especially nowadays when 3D printers are available to reconstruct the missing soft tissue. And it sometimes shows interesting details — for instance, Triceratops, while one of our favorites, probably wasn’t the brightest dinosaur in the park.
Today’s technology makes this fairly easy, but it must have been challenging work during the 1920s and 1930s, even before you factor in the Nazis.
Yes. Nazis. Tilly Edinger had to flee Germany after the Kristallnacht.
Check out this blogger’s excellent biography of her.
Now back to that little Cretaceous mammal’s skull discovered recently.
Using Edinger’s technique, paleontologists have learned a lot about this tiny creature’s brain, including the fact that it had a keen sense of smell.
There’s still much we don’t yet know about Cretaceous dinosaurs and mammals, but thanks to the work of Dr. Edinger (and many other experts), what once were considered long vanished biological details are now, in a sense, reappearing for the first time in many tens of millions of years.
Featured image: Wikimedia