Oldest Brain on Earth Discovered in Kansas

Charles Bryant

This morning I came across an interesting story on MSNBC.com that revealed the discovery of a 300 million year-old fish fossil. Ordinarily this wouldn't be the biggest deal in the world. It's not the oldest fossil on record -- that distinction belongs to an ancient sponge believed to be 635 million years old. It's not even the oldest fish fossil on record. That honor goes to a fossil found in China in 1999 that's estimated to be 530 million years old.

The cool thing about the recent find is that it's a fossil of a brain. This makes it an extremely rare find and the oldest brain (fossil) on earth. Most ancient fossils are from bones, not organs or soft tissue. There's been some fossilized muscle tissue found here and there, and fossilized kidneys have also been discovered. But finding a fossilized brain could unearth a lot of clues about the way ancient animals' vision and sense of smell may have worked, among other things. It also inspires researchers to locate brains of other vertebrates, which is great fun for the scientific community.

The brain, from a distant relative of the modern ratfish, was found in a fossil bed in Kansas. No word yet on what kind of tackle was used to catch it.

Your homework for today: How Fossils Work How are fossil replicas made? How do scientists know if dinosaur fossils are male or female? How did scientists find soft tissue in dinosaur fossils?