Archaeologists in western Turkey have uncovered a 4,000-year-old human brain, preserved inside its skull. The brain, one of the oldest ever found, was dug up in Seyitömer Höyük, a Bronze Age settlement 25 kilometers northwest of Kutahya, as the crow flies.
The brain was unearthed in 2010, amidst an ancient burial ground which appears to have been burned. Charred skeletons and wooden objects were also found. Meriç Altinoz of Haliç University in Istanbul, along with his colleagues, believe that an earthquake destroyed the settlement, burying everyone and everything, soon before a fire began to spread. The fire consumed a lot of the oxygen, and likewise boiled all of the moisture off of the brain, thus preventing normal tissue decay.
The result is what appears to be a sponge-like block of petrified brain-wood. Another factor which aided in the preservation of the brain lied in the makeup of the soil at the site. It was full of magnesium, potassium and aluminum. These components, combined with fatty acids found in human tissue, make up a substance scientifically known as adipocere. Adipocere is known as "corpse wax" on the streets.
University of Zurich researcher Frank Rühli states that "the level of preservation in combination with the age is remarkable." Rühli goes on to point out that these old brains can be studied for ailments like tumors, hemorrhages and degenerative diseases like Parkinson's, adding that "if we want to learn more about the history of neurological disorders, we need to have tissue like this."
Researchers have also recently deduced that three 500-year-old preserved Inca children were drugged before being sacrificed. Though ancient preserved tissue finds are rare, they might be more common than one might think - Rühli says that most archaeologists don't bother looking for the remains of brain tissue because they assume it is seldom preserved, adding ,"If you publish cases like this, people will be more and more aware that they could find original brain tissue too."
Image via Haliç Üniversitesi, Istabul.