STL Science Center

STL Science Center

15 August 2017

The Brains and Skulls

Brains and other soft tissues are of great interest to scientists in extant and fossil specimens. There are a variety of ways to study organs in extant specimens and many of those methods can actually be applied to fossil specimens as well. Many of the methods used to investigate fossil soft tissue systems originate in studies of the soft tissues of extant organisms. These are systems that we can readily devise methods for and test out the methods on. Interpretation of the results can be compared with observations of behavior and organ use in extant animals as well. These model organisms and their organ systems allow for inquiries into similar systems in fossil animals. These steps result in studies such as Kundrat 2007 which looks at virtual brain models of Conchoraptor derived from CT scans of the skull. The scans are used to create virtual endocasts, or models of the negative space of the skull where the brain would have been in a living Conchoraptor. Endocasts show scientists potential lobes of the brain (assuming that the skull retained its original dimensions during the fossilization process). Kundrat 2007was able to identify characteristics of the brain that Conchoraptor appears to have shared, or at least approximated, with the brains of birds. Additional studies of the skull have been undertaken which look at other organ systems of Conchoraptor and use some similar methods. Kundrat and Janacek 2007 explored the hearing capabilities as well as the structure of the skull of Conchoraptor. They described pneumatization and sinuses of the cranium (another avian-like feature). This study also described and analyzed the bones surrounding the tympanum (eardrum). Recesses in the bone helped to describe the tympanum itself as well as the different portions of the ear. Specifically, Kundrat and Janacek were able to describe distinct proportions and geometry of the inner and middle ear of Conchoraptor and infer the hearing capabilties of the dinosaur.

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