Histological, chemical, and morphological reexamination of the “heart” of a small Late Cretaceous Thescelosaurus
A three-dimensional, iron-cemented structure found in the anterior thoracic cavity of articulated Thescelosaurus skeletal remains was hypothesized to be the fossilized remains of the animal’s four-chambered heart. This was important because the finding could be interpreted to support a hypothesis that non-avian dinosaurs were endothermic. Mammals and birds, the only extant organisms with four-chambered hearts and single aortae, are endotherms. The hypothesis that this Thescelosaurus has a preserved heart was controversial, and therefore, we reexamined it using higher-resolution computed tomography, paleohistological examination, X-ray diffraction analysis, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, and scanning electron microscopy. This suite of analyses allows for detailed morphological and chemical examination beyond what was provided in the original work. Neither the more detailed examination of the gross morphology and orientation of the thoracic “heart” nor the microstructural studies supported the hypothesis that the structure was a heart. The more advanced computed tomography showed the same three areas of low density as the earlier studies with no evidence of additional low-density areas as might be expected from examinations of an ex situ ostrich heart. Microstructural examination of a fragment taken from the “heart” was consistent with cemented sand grains, and no chemical signal consistent with a biological origin was detected. However, small patches of cell-like microstructures were preserved in the sandstone matrix of the thoracic structure. A possible biological origin for these microstructures is the focus of ongoing investigation.