Russian scientists peek into skull of Earth’s top predator from 250 million years ago


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A computer tomography has allowed the scientists to create a 3D reconstruction of the only available skull of a Garjainia – one of the Earth’s most ancient predators, the Moscow Health Department’s Scientific and Practical Clinical Center for Diagnostics and Telemedicine.

Russian scientists peek into skull of Earth’s top predator from 250 million years ago
The fossilised skull of a Garjainia [Credit: Viktor Gombolevsky]

The Garjainia reptile genus that inhabited the Earth approximately 250 million years ago, was an archosaur – the ancestor of the dinosaurs.

Now, scientists have the ability to trace the evolution of the ancient reptile’s brain, the center’s press-service told TASS.

The center carried out the research in conjunction with the Saint Petersburg State University (SPSU) and the Borissiak Paleontologocal Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“Thanks to the specially developed high resolution scanning protocol, we were able to create a high-definition three-dimensional skull reconstruction, which would allow us to study small anatomical details and trace the evolution of the brain and other intracranial structures in one particular archosaur group,” says the center’s statement.

The scientists explained that some 250 million years ago, at the top of the world’s food chain stood Erythrosuchidae, or “red crocodiles,” a family of now extinct reptiles, believed to be the ancestors of the dinosaurs and modern crocodiles. The family included several genera, the Garjainia being the earliest of them. Soviet paleontologist Vitaly Ochev identified this genus in 1958, and he named it after Vladimir Garyainov, an archaeologist, who discovered an entire burial ground of reptiles in the Orenburg Region in the 1950s. Unfortunately, the scientists were able to recover only one Garjainia skull intact.

Russian scientists peek into skull of Earth’s top predator from 250 million years ago
Artistic reconstruction of Garjainia [Credit: Mark Witton]

“Erythrosuchidae have never before undergone three-dimensional scanning of the cranial and inner ear cavities. We expect that this would provide new information about its structure, give us some insight into its sense of hearing, balance, head position and maybe even behavior,” says Ivan Kuzmin of SPSU’s Faculty of Biology.

“However, our main goal is to reconstruct its lineage, based on the newly discovered anatomical features of the cranial section of the skull, as well as to discuss the relations of different genera and the evolution of the cranial section in this particular archosaur group over 250 million years,” he added.

The scientists have created a photorealistic 3D reconstruction, which would make it possible to precisely measure the internal structure, calculate the inner volume, and trace the blood vessels and nerves through the natural bone orifices. This should allow scientists to map out the evolution of blood and nerve canals over time.

The scientists have also managed to scan the reptile’s teeth.

“This would allow us to obtain additional data from the cores of the intact teeth, hidden from external influence under its firm enamel – the most durable part of the reptile’s body. This unique “time capsule” waited 250 million years. Now, using modern spectral computer tomography, we will attempt to compare the [garjainia’s] dentin with teeth of its modern relatives – crocodiles,” says Viktor Gombolevsky, who heads the Center’s Radiology Quality Development Department.

Source: TASS News Agency [January 31, 2020]



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