A relaxing walk on the beach is great for the mind and body, but it rarely yields anything beyond that. But in Jamie Hiscock’s case, his walk on the beach turned into an incredible example of what amateur discoveries can do for the scientific community.
The regular looking pebble that caught his eye could have easily been overlooked if it wasn’t for a gut feeling. Experts are saying that there is no parallel to what was found on the beach that day.
The shores of East Sussex in England are no stranger to storms raging on their beaches. It’s constant — often wearing away the sand and exposing items buried deep in the ground. Sometimes, something really extraordinary is found.
Mike McBey / Flickr
When the conditions are right, treasure and fossil hunters take advantage of the weather torn beaches and search for something valuable. Jamie Hiscocks was one of these people, and after a particularly bad storm, he made his way down to the beach.
As an amateur fossil hunter, he scanned the shore for anything that might be of interest. A small, dark, and irregularly shaped object caught his eye. He looked at it for a few minutes, before deciding it was most likely just a rock.
University of Cambridge
But one thing in particular caused him to hold on to the unassuming pebble. It had an intricate pattern across the surface. The more he examined it, the more he convinced himself that it wasn’t a rock at all. Hiscocks believed it might be something more important.
When he took it home and showed his brother, the pair decided that they may have stumbled upon something meaningful. However, with their limited knowledge, they couldn’t be sure. So, they made a move to turn the object over to an expert.
When they gave the object to Martin Brasier, a paleo-biologist at Oxford University, he was intrigued. He knew right way that this was no rock — it appeared to be a dinosaur fossil. A dinosaur fossil unlike any he had seen in his career.
Brasier believed the fossil was a cranial endocast, or brain fossil of a dinosaur. He worked tirelessly examining the unique striations on the surface of the “stone,” but was unable to come up with a theory he was satisfied with. That’s when David Norman took a second look.
mrapplegate / Flickr
Norman is a scholar at Cambridge, and he saw something different in the fossil. The two men different in opinion on what part of the brain was represented, but they planned to continue on with the research together. Then, tragedy struck.
Martin Brasier passed away in a car accident, fully halting his work on the fossil forever. Norman stepped in and did exactly what his friend would have wanted. He continued work on the fossil and his discoveries are truly astonishing.
Sari Foy / Dailymotion
Advanced scanning and imagery provided all the answers to lingering questions about the nature of this fossil. The chance discovery ended up being the only of its kind in the world of paleontology. They confirmed it was the first and only fossilized dinosaur brain ever found.
University of Manchester
Norman and his colleagues went on to outline that it was the brain of a dinosaur related to the Iguanodon. They knew it was a herbivore from the the Cretaceous era. They dated the fossil at 133 million years old. That wasn’t even the craziest part.
King Rexy / Youtube
Those patterns on the fossil that had been such a point of curiosity turned out to be actual remnants of the meninges, a protective tissue surrounding the brain of the dinosaur. Because of this, even more incredible things remained intact.
The preservation of this tissue allowed the actual cortex of the brain to be visible, as well as fully preserved blood vessels. These findings are totally unparalleled. As Norman explained to National Geographic it is, “the nearest I suspect we’re ever going to get to the whole [brain].”
Archaeology Wiki / Archaeology Newsroom
All of this created a way for researchers to draw new conclusions about dinosaurs and their connection to modern animals. The 133-million-year-old brain shows similarities to crocodiles and birds. This, of course, is an idea widely accepted by the community already.
vortex2000 / Flickr
It’s not everyday that scientists get tangible evidence from millions of years ago to confirm their theories. The unbelievably well-preserved nature of the brain has researchers looking into the circumstances surrounding this dinosaur’s death.
annas8 / Flickr
Through their research, a loose narrative has been constructed around what may have happened. It is believed that the dinosaur’s body sunk to the bottom of a pond. When its head was submerged in the mineral rich sand, the membranes slowly “pickled” in the skull.
Darren Naish / Scientific American
The rest of the body decomposed, and the skull was left perfectly intact for over a hundred million years just waiting for Hiscocks to stumble upon it. “Getting a glimpse into what the brain is like blows us away,” stated paleontologist Lawrence Witmer.
Lawrence Witmer / Ohio.edu
There is still more to glean from the brain. Researchers plan to use 3D imagery to contrast the details of the dinosaur brain to related ancestors on earth today. Norman also wants to reexamine cranial endocasts he’s found in the past with this new information.
Jamie Hiscocks, who is at the center of the incredible discovery, remains shocked that the pebble he stumbled across has proven to be so significant. “Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would find anything like this,” Jamie explained.
He’s proud of his contribution and the impact fossil finders have in the scientific community. In fact, these fossils have helped massively to inform the image we have of dinosaurs. An image made very popular by movies like Jurassic Park.
At the time of Jurassic Park’s production, in the entire world, just seven or eight full T. rex skeletons had been recovered by paleontologists. Fast forward to today, experts have a much clearer grasp of what the unofficial king of the dinos really looked like.
YouTube / Movie Clips
Over a dozen additional full T. rex skeletons have been recovered from around the world as of 2019. Further study of the remains led to drastically different portraits of the carnivorous beast than science had constructed.
National Museum Scotland
One of the most significant features of the T. rex that came to light was that they were the originators of the business in the front, party in the back lifestyle. That’s right, the most fearsome of the dinosaur community rocked a mullet.
American Museum of Natural History
The experts deduced that, like the other members of the tyrannosaur species, the T. rex had tufts of feathers running from the top of their heads to down their spines, with a cute little feather fluff at the tips of their tails.
This is purely an assumption though, since the existence of fossilized feathers is far and few between. None of the T. rex skeletal remains show feathers, but a bunch of their cousins’ do, which points to a strong likelihood it was a family trait.
A feathered mullet isn’t the image that strikes fear in the hearts of men, quite the opposite actually. In fact, the brutish dinosaurs started off nearly cuddly. As hatchlings, it’s believed that the T. rex was born with a peachfuzz-like coat.
If they were among the fraction that survived past infancy, they’d shed their baby feathers, minus the mullet and tail, a feat that just 40% of the T. rex total population would live to see.
Gregory Erickson, a paleontologist from Florida State University explained that the T. rex was sort of like the “The James Dean of Dinosaurs.” The actor passed away at age 24, and famously uttered the quote “Live fast, die young, leave a good looking corpse.”
T. rexes weren’t here long, but they were magnificent to behold. Based on the growth rings observable on dinosaur bones, much like the concentric markings of trees, paleontologists pinpointed the ages at the time of death to be usually before 30 years.
Within that three-decade lifespan, the T. rex spent most of its time packing on the pounds. In their journey from fuzzy hatchling to a gargantuan terrifying beast, the T. rex would gain around 1,700 lbs, topping out at a staggering 9 tons.
Paleontologists think the short arms of a T.rex were totally purposeless. Similar to the human appendix and wisdom teeth, their arms were passed down from early tyrannosaur species, who could function with a tiny wingspan.
Luckily, the T. rex perfected the eating process by scooping prey up in their menacing jaws. As Mark Norell, a curator for the American Museum of Natural History explained, “the predator had the rare ability to bite through solid bone and digest it.”
That fascinating bit of information came from studying fossilized dinosaur poop. Who knew that existed!? Chemical testing determined that the excrement held pulverized bits of bones that had been exposed to digestive acids in the stomach.
If the tooth fairy visited T. rexes, they’d never have time for anyone else. All the teeth inside that mammoth dino cranium regrew every two years, so it was a constant cycle of losing their fangs.
American Museum of Natural History
Constant tooth regeneration secured the T. rex’s spot for the most powerful jaw of any creature in history. Their prey was crushed with the force of 7,800 lbs, which would be like having three Mini Coopers dropped on top of you.
Experts debated whether the T. rex was only a hunter, or if they also dabbled in scavenging dead animals. It was determined that they ate their own based on fossilized waste examinations. Though the question remained, did they eat prey alive?
Based on the evidence available so far, all signs point to T. rexes as strictly bloodthirsty carnivorous hunters, not scavengers. One mischaracterization that Steven Spielberg included in his film is that their eye position limited their sight to tracking only moving objects.
That’s pure fabrication. With peepers the size of oranges, the T. rex could clock a meal using its unparalleled depth perception, thanks to the large distance between its forward-facing eyes.
If you found yourself face to face with a hungry T. rex, you could’ve outrun it — because they couldn’t run! Similar to the limbs of an elephant, the hind legs remained fairly straight with at least one limb keeping balance on the ground.
New York Post
At birth, paleontologists say the underdeveloped dinosaurs were capable of running but that decreased with growth. But the T. rex had no issue catching its food. It was a master speed walker, gliding along in lengthy strides of about 10 to 25 mph.
One fact debated amongst paleontologists is the coloring of a T. rex. In films, they have muted earth-toned reptilian hides, though there’s no science to support that. All it would take is one small scientific discovery to prove they were vividly colorful.
The tricky part is knowing where to search for the remaining evidence of the dinosaurs. What looks like a craggy rock surface, withering from time and the elements, could be a paleontological goldmine in disguise.
In the 1980s, a team of workers stumbled upon something extraordinary in the highlands of Bolivia: some sort of pattern imprinted in a near-vertical cliff. The site is located near Sucre, the capital of Bolivia, which is nestled in the foothills of the Andes mountains.
Ramon Kristian Arellano / Twisted Sifter
Miners contracted by a Bolivian cement company named Fancesca had been excavating an area about three miles from Sucre.
Éamonn Lawlor / Flickr
The more they chipped away at the rock, the more they noticed this strange pattern in the walls of the quarry.
Jerry Daykin / Wikimedia Commons
This wasn’t just any pattern — it was a trail of actual dinosaur footprints. The site, dubbed Cal Orcko, is now considered extremely important to the world of paleontology, with secrets still being uncovered to this day.
Sean Mulry / Wikimedia Commons
The Cal Orcko quarry features a huge limestone wall that stretches 4,000 feet across and 250 feet high — and is covered with almost 5,000 dinosaur prints!
Gerardo Diego Ontiveros / Flickr
In 1998, Christian Meyer of the Natural History Museum in Basel, Switzerland, arrived at the site with a research team. They spent the next few months studying the wall, and concluded that there was nowhere else in the world with a more extensive collection of dinosaur footprints.
Ryan Greenberg / Flickr
At 269,100 square feet, the area contains footprints from nearly 300 different dinosaur species in all. One of these creatures is thought to have been at least 80 feet tall, while the largest footprint is three feet long!
Cropbot / Wikimedia Commons
Cal Orcko is providing scientists the opportunity to learn more about these fantastic creatures. “There is no comparable site in the world,” Meyer said in an interview.
Roberto Murta / Wikimedia Commons
Footprints found at the site belonged to such dinosaurs like Carnotaurus, a predatory animal with small arms and legs; as well as the Ankylosaurus, a herbivore with an armored exterior and a club-like tail. There are even footprints from the Titanosaur, a plant-eating dinosaur that once weighed more than 100 tons!
Yatlik World Taster
Cal Orcko also features the longest known set of dinosaur tracks at 1,150 feet, created by a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex, whom a team of researchers named Johnnie Walker.
vincentraal / Flickr
But that wasn’t all. Researchers have discovered dinosaur bones as well as evidence of crocodiles and fish, leading experts to believe that Cal Orcko was once a lake where these creatures would bathe and drink.
David Monniaux / WIkimedia Commons
Scientists also claim that the damp climate was ideal for dinosaurs to leave deep footprints in the soft ground. As the area became more dry, these footprints hardened as were preserved. This cycle repeated year after year, forming several layers of footprints.
Tim Evanson / Wikimedia Commons
Of course, the landscape shifted along with tectonic activity. This explains why the footprints seem to be marching in a vertical direction — the rock was simply pushed upward.
Jerry Daykin / Wikimedia Commons
Not surprisingly, Cal Orcko is a popular site for tourists. In 2006, the Parque Cretácico museum opened to showcase models and explain the area’s rich prehistoric past. There’s even a viewing platform for visitors to observe the footprints in the limestone walls.
Jasonwoodhead23 / Wikimedia Commons
New discoveries at Cal Orcko are still being discovered to this day with all of its industrial projects and ever-shifting landscape. “It’s just amazing,” says Maria Teresa Gamón, a guide at the site. “We see fresh footprints and fossils all the time. We lose some, we find some. It’s always changing.”
Eva K / Wikimedia Commons
That point was proven perfectly in April 2015 with the discovery of a whopping 5,000 new footprints, including two sets that once belonged to a previously unknown species. There’s no telling what they’ll find next.
Esv / Wikimedia Commons