Inside the head of a dinosaur: T-rex gets a brain scan

FUERTH, Germany
Published 21.06.2015 00:43
Updated 21.06.2015 00:54

Scientists have given a brain scan to the half-ton fossilized head of a Tyrannosaurus rex in one of the world's biggest computer tomographs in Germany to determine how smart and how developed dinosaurs were.

Presenting the results this week after weeks of processing the data, Anne Schulp, a scientist from the Dutch museum, Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, said it was the highest-resolution scan ever conducted on a T-rex skull, with 1,500 separate exposures.

"Like magic," he said.

The skull, of a female estimated to have died at age 30, was found in the US state of Montana in 2013 and is estimated to be 66.4 million years old.

It was later scanned, a process taking 45 hours in total, inside a device known as the XXL tomograph, biggest of its type in the world, at an X-ray lab in Fuerth of Germany's government science arm, the Fraunhofer Institutes.

"In the past, a head would have had to be broken to bits to examine it," explained palaeontologist Schulp, 41. A CT scan keeps it intact.

There is little trace of the T-rex brain, but the shape of the inside of the skull reveals which brain areas were highly developed, indicating for example how good a T-rex's eyesight was.

The scan will also help in restoring the skull, revealing fractures before the work starts and enabling missing parts of the jaw to be reconstructed by 3D printing.

Most of the skeleton has survived. Schulp said the only parts missing are one leg, the claws, teeth and the end of the tail.

It counts among the five best T-rex fossils in the world and will go on display in Leiden from the autumn of next year as the only original T-rex on show outside North America.

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