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Natural (fossil) endocast of a Tyrannosaurus cranial vault, showing extensive olfactory bulb (left)

An endocast is the internal cast of a hollow object, often specifically used for an endocasts of the cranial vault.[1] Endocasts can be man-made for examining the properties of a hollow, inaccessible space, or occur naturally through fossilisation.

Cranial endocasts[edit]

Manmade casts[edit]

Endocasts of the inside of the neurocranium (braincase) are often made in paleoanthropology to study brain structures and hemispheric specialization in extinct human ancestors. While an endocast can not directly reveal brain structure[citation needed], it can allow scientists to gauge the size of areas of the brain situated close to the surface, notably Wernicke's and Broca's areas, responsible for interpreting and producing speech.

Traditionally, the casting material is some form of rubber or rubber-like material. The openings to the brain cavity, except for the foramen magnum, are closed, and the liquid rubber is slushed around in the empty cranial vault and then left to set. The resulting hollow sphere can then be drained of air like a balloon and pulled out through the foramen magnum.[2] Rubber endocasts like these were the standard practice until the end of the 20th century and are still used in some fields. However, scientists are increasingly utilizing computerized tomography scanning technology to create digital endocasts in order to avoid risking damage to valuable specimens.[3]

Natural endocasts[edit]

Natural cranial endocasts are also known. The famous Taung Child, the first Australopithecus found, consists of a natural endocast connected to the facial portion of the skull. It was the shape of the brain that allowed Raymond Dart to conclude that the fossil was that of a human relative rather than an extinct ape.[4]

Mammal endocasts are particularly useful as they resemble the fresh brain with the dura mater in place. Such "fossil brains" are known from several hundred different mammal species.[1] More than a hundred natural cast of the cranial vault of Bathygenys (a small merycodont) alone are known, some having identifiable features down to the major gyri.[5] A natural cranial endocast of a Tyrannosaurus brain vault is also known, showing the animal had limited intelligence, but a well-developed sense of smell.[6] The oldest known natural cranial endocast is a fossil fish brain from a Holocephalan, some 300 million years old.[7]

Endocasts of other hollows[edit]

Endocast of the shell of an Ordovician straight-shelled cephalopod, showing the internal shell structure

Endocasts fossils from animals with shells that easily disintegrate or dissolve, like the aragonite shells of certain molluscs and the tests of sea urchins can often be encountered free from their mold fossil. A frequent form is the internal mold of brachiopods. In the quite symmetrical genus Pentamerus the endocast resembles a vulva, giving these fossils the name Schamsteine ("shame stones") in German. The "Venus of Svinesund", a early mesolithic Venus figurine from Norway is a re-worked brachiopod endocast.[8] Endocasts are also known from snail shells and even from the stomach hollow of jellyfish, a group that rarely leave fossil traces.

Man-made endocasts are sometimes made from blood vessels for medical or anatomical reasons. The blood vessel of an organ (e.g. brain or liver) is injected with a resin. When it is set, the organ itself is dissolved, leaving a three-dimensional image of the blood supply to the organ.


  1. ^ a b Jerison, H.J. "Paleoneurology: The study of brain endocasts of extinct vertebrates". Comparative Mammalian Brain Collection. University of Wisconsin, Michigan State University, National Museum of Health and Medicine, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Retrieved 17 November 2011. 
  2. ^ McGowan, Christopher (1991). Dinosaurs, spitfires, and sea dragons (Compl. rev. and updated version of "The successful dragons" ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-20769-6. 
  3. ^ Brett-Surman, edited by M. K.; Buchholtz, E.; Jr., Thomas R. Holtz; director, James O. Farlow; Bob Walters, art. The complete dinosaur (2nd ed. ed.). Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press. pp. 191–208. ISBN 978-0-253-00849-7. 
  4. ^ Brain, C.K. Raymond Dart and our African Origins, in A Century of Nature: Twenty-One Discoveries that Changed Science and the World, Laura Garwin and Tim Lincoln, eds.
  5. ^ Wilson, J.A. (1971). "Early Tertiary vertebrate faunas, Vieja Group: Trans- Pecos Texas: Agriochoeridae and Merycoidodontidae". Texas Memorial Museum Bulletin (18): 1–83. 
  6. ^ Australian museum: Tyrannosaurus rex brain
  7. ^ Oldest Fossil Brain Find Is 'Really Bizarre', LiveScience.com
  8. ^ Venus from Svinesund

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endocast — Please support Wikipedia.
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87 news items

PLoS Blogs (blog)
Thu, 04 Dec 2014 09:37:30 -0800

Digital endocast and interpretive drawing of the endocast from Rhinodipterus. The front of the brain is on the right, and the back (spinal cord) is at the left. The inner ear region is shown in orange, the hindbrain (including base of the spinal cord ...

Tech Times

Tech Times
Tue, 26 Aug 2014 06:30:00 -0700

For the study "New high-resolution computed tomography data of the Taung partial cranium and endocast and their bearing on metopism and hominin brain evolution", which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Aug.

Laboratory Equipment

Laboratory Equipment
Thu, 18 Sep 2014 03:52:30 -0700

A: Using the high resolution CT image data, we have reconstructed the endocast of the Taung Child. It is the first time a reconstruction has been made from high resolution images. We are comparing its surface morphology to the surface morphology of ...


Fri, 25 Apr 2014 03:41:15 -0700

Estimated to be 2.5 million years old, the fossil consists of most of the face, a mandible with teeth and a natural limestone cast of the inside of the cranium (endocast). Anatomical studies of this and similar fossils show that the species regularly ...

National Geographic

National Geographic
Wed, 31 Jul 2013 10:16:11 -0700

Few extinct species have emerged from the Earth with more fanfare than Archaeopteryx. In 1861, workers in a limestone quarry in Germany discovered the impression of a single 145-million-year-old feather. Hermann von Meyer, the paleontologist who first ...

Scientific American

Scientific American
Tue, 14 May 2013 08:02:22 -0700

Thibaut Bienvenu of the Collège de France in Paris and his colleagues digitally reconstructed Toumaï's endocast—a cast of the interior of the braincase, which reveals the shape of the brain. They found that Toumaï had a cranial capacity of 378 cubic ...
Sat, 13 Apr 2013 22:02:30 -0700

Thibaut Bienvenu and colleagues at the Collège de France sought to reconstruct Toumaï's endocast (a cast of the interior of the braincase) so as to reveal the shape of its brain. However, the shape of the real skull had become distorted over time and ...
New York Times
Sun, 25 Nov 2007 00:00:00 -0800

He pioneered the endocast technique and is widely regarded as a leading expert on the evolution of the human brain, even by many who have disagreed with his more controversial conclusions. Most notably, during his 43 years at Columbia, Dr. Holloway ...

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