This may be common in archeology: a 2,500-year-old human skeleton was found in England. But surprisingly, in the hemispheres of the skull found brains that are still intact. The discovery of a shriveled brownish-yellow brain is a big question for scientists: how could this fragile organ have survived for thousands of years. Also, how often those unique pickling incidents occur.
What’s more, except for the cerebral hemispheres, all the soft tissue in the skull was lost when the skeleton was pulled from an Iron Age mud hole, which happens to be the site of an expansion of the University of York complex in East Heslington. “It’s fantastic, imagine, that the brain of someone who died thousands of years ago could survive in a wetland,” said Sonia O’Connor, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bradford, as published on the LiveScience website. O’Connor researched a team of scientists who studied the state of the oldest brain after it was found in 2008 later.
“It’s really surprising, if you talk to a pathologist who often has problems with corpses. They will say, the first organ that wants to break down and develop into fluid is the brain. Because it’s high in fat.”
The skull is thought to belong to a 26- to 45-year-old man with two broken jaw and neck bones – evidence that the body was hanged and then beheaded. However, continued O’Connor, there is no indication why he was hanged. The rest of the bodies have not been found. To note, more than a decade earlier, O’Connor was involved in the discovery of 25 brains preserved in medieval England. However, there is no sign of the skull at Heslington being deliberately preserved or mummified.
Heslington’s skull is thought to have been buried in the water as soon as he died. The absence of oxygen may prevent brain tissue from decaying. However, while it seems that the oxygen-free factor is key to the mystery, scientists are unlikely to rule out other factors such as disease or certain physiological shifts — such as hunger — that may affect brain preservation.
After being submerged for so long in a watery environment, Heslington’s brain began to change chemically, increasing to a durable material and shrinking to a quarter of its original size. Currently, scientists are still investigating the chemical details of the brain.
Allegedly, the Heslington skull dates from 673 to 482 BC. While the Romans are thought to have arrived in the area in 71 AD. According to Richard Hall, archeology executive at the York Archaeological Trust, in the past the area of the skull was thought to have been a permanent environment, with water canals.
Archaeologists have also recovered what is believed to be a thatched circle on the roof of the house, as well as features such as a pond that may have been used for water storage, he said. Scientists have not been able to pinpoint the purpose of the holes — where the skull was found. Meanwhile, no other human bodies have been found at the site.