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The shiny, fossilized brains of two ancient sea-monsterlike creatures are helping researchers understand how the ancestors of modern-day arthropods, such as scorpions and lobsters, evolved, as shown in a new study.
The research focuses on an oval structure, called the anterior sclerite, found in the heads of ancient arthropods. The anterior sclerite has long baffled researchers, especially because some prehistoric arthropods have it while others don't, and its location in the head changes, depending on the quality of the fossil.
But now, fossilized brains have helped solve that mystery. An analysis of the anterior sclerites in two arthropod fossils, both more than 500 million years old, indicates that the structures were associated with the creatures' bulbous eyes. The findings provide evidence that these oval structures were associated with nerves originating in the anterior region of the brain, according to the study. [Fabulous Fossils: Gallery of Earliest Animal Organs]
"We can say, 'Ah-ha, where does anterior sclerite come from? It comes from the anterior most part of the brain — the forebrain,'" said study researcher Javier Ortega-Hernández, a research fellow in paleobiology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.
The study was published Thursday (May 7) in the journal Current Biology.
This is a condensed version of a report from Live Science. Read the full report. Follow Laura Geggel on Twitter @LauraGeggel. Follow Live Science@livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.