Saturday, 14 June 2014

Children's Museum Indianapolis (USA)...where children of all ages can learn!

The Gorgosaurus that will form the centre-piece of our Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, X-Appeal,  is a cast of the original skeleton that is on display at the Children's Museum in Indianapolis (USA). I visited the palaeontology curator, Dallas Evans, at this splendid museum last month, where we arranged the loan of some wonderfully real bones from this amazing dinosaur skeleton. These will be placed on display alongside our full skeleton mount at the Royal Society. We were particularly interested in the healed injuries or 'pathologies' that this remarkable specimen acquired during its rough and tumble life.
Gorgosaurus at the Children's Museum, Indianapolis (USA). 
I think it would be fair to say, this dinosaur leapt head-first into the shallow end of the gene-pool when it came to being beaten black and blue during its life. Few fossils of any dinosaur look as beaten-up as this unlucky bruiser of a beastie. This dinosaurs was either very clumsy, extremely unlucky...or maybe both! It is when you start looking more closely at the brain case of this animal, that you start to see a possible cause behind the symptomatic evidence of maladroit locomotor ability.
The braincase of Gorgosaurus.
The brain case of all reptiles follows the shape of the brain rather closely. When you peer inside the brain case of Gorgosaurus using powerful x-ays, it is possible to see the overall shape of the space that the brain once occupied (the endocranial shape). However, there is more than just a cavity, as now it is filled with secondary minerals formed during the process of fossilisation....but there is more to this infill than meets the eye! Within the calcite crystal infill of the endocranial space, there are some rather curious bony struts....these are growing from the walls of the braincase into where the brain once sat.
The circular region marks a break in the braincase, that shows the dark boney mass growing with the paler calcitic infill...
could this be a bony tumour that had our dinosaur tripping over its own feet?
Given we can image the overall shape of the space once occupied by the brain, we can see that these bony growths affected the cerebellum portion of the brain. This part of the brain is associated with motor the orchestral distribution of muscle activation that allows for a more coordinated life style. If these bony struts grew during life (which the evidence suggests they did) these would have damaged the part of the gorgosaurs brain that was most needed for locomotion, coordination and general stability....this was a wobbly, 7.4 metre long, predatory dinosaur!

I heartily recommend that if you are within a thousand miles of Indianapolis....go to the Children's Museum! It is one of my most favourite museums anywhere on the planet...and I have visited a fair few splendid museums! If you join us at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, you will get to see a tony potion of their world-class collections...for the very first time in the UK.

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