An endocast is the internal cast of a hollow object, often specifically used for an endocasts of the cranial vault. Endocasts can be man-made for examining the properties of a hollow, inaccessible space, or occur naturally through fossilisation.
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 , 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. 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.
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.
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. 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. 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. The oldest known natural cranial endocast is a fossil fish brain from a Holocephalan, some 300 million years old.
Endocasts of other hollows
Endocast of the shell of an Ordovician
, 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. 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.
- ^ 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.
- ^ 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.
- ^ 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.
- ^ 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.
- ^ Wilson, J.A. (1971). "Early Tertiary vertebrate faunas, Vieja Group: Trans- Pecos Texas: Agriochoeridae and Merycoidodontidae". Texas Memorial Museum Bulletin (18): 1–83.
- ^ Australian museum: Tyrannosaurus rex brain
- ^ Oldest Fossil Brain Find Is 'Really Bizarre', LiveScience.com
- ^ Venus from Svinesund
Visible Interactive Moa - skull with brain endocast, paranasal sinuses, etc.
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DJ Endo - Endocast #1 (August 2012)
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Based on the 2013 PLOS ONE article (http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0054991) by F. Knoll, R. C. Ridgely, F. Ortega, J. L. Sanz and L. M. Witmer. CT s...
Human skull with brain endocast, paranasal sinuses, & mastoid sinuses
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Sharp-shinned hawk: skull, brain endocast, & inner ear based on microCT scanning
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Visible Interactive Bobcat - skull with brain endocast, paranasal sinuses, etc.
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Spinophorosaurus -- braincase, endocast, and inner ear of a basal sauropod from Africa
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Visible Interactive Iguana - skull with brain endocast & inner ear labyrinth
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Thu, 22 Jan 2015 11:12:15 -0800
Researchers have come across ancient anatomical evidence that suggests that Australopithecus africanus, a hominin species thought to be an ancestor of humans, sported hands capable of making and using stone tools, a capability until now reserved only ...
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 ...
Mon, 25 Aug 2014 12:00:17 -0700
Taung child – Facial forensic reconstruction by Arc-Team, Antrocon NPO, Cicero Moraes, University of Padua. Credit: Cicero Moraes/CC BY-SA 3.0. The Taung Child, South Africa's premier hominin discovered 90 years ago by Wits University Professor ...
Thu, 18 Sep 2014 04:03:06 -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 ...
The Guardian (blog)
The Guardian (blog)
Fri, 08 Aug 2014 02:54:37 -0700
“We were inspired by termite mounds,” says Jiashuang Sun, a student working on the project, showing me a plaster “endocast” of the negative space inside a computer-modelled termitarium. Just as the termites burrow a complex network of passages to keep ...
Mon, 28 Apr 2014 01:24:03 -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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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