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Archive for Saturday, December 13, 2008

Scientists find 2,000-year-old brain

December 13, 2008

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— British archaeologists have unearthed an ancient skull carrying a startling surprise — an unusually well-preserved brain.

Scientists said Friday that the mass of gray matter was more than 2,000 years old — the oldest ever discovered in Britain. One expert unconnected with the find called it “a real freak of preservation.”

The skull was severed from its owner sometime before the Roman invasion of Britain and found in a muddy pit during a dig at the University of York in northern England this fall, according to Richard Hall, a director of York Archaeological Trust.

Finds officer Rachel Cubbitt realized the skull might contain a brain when she felt something move inside the cranium as she was cleaning it, Hall said. She looked through the skull’s base and spotted an unusual yellow substance inside. Scans at York Hospital confirmed the presence of brain tissue.

Hall said it was unclear just how much of the brain had survived, saying the tissue had apparently contracted over the years.

He said it was a mystery why the skull was buried separately from its body, suggesting human sacrifice and ritual burial as possible explanations.

The existence of a brain where no other soft tissues have survived is extremely rare, according to Sonia O’Connor, an archaeological researcher at the University of Bradford in northern England who helped authenticate the discovery.

“This brain is particularly exciting because it is very well preserved, even though it is the oldest recorded find of this type in the U.K., and one of the earliest worldwide,” she said.

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