Friday, 12 Dec, 2008 Science
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Scientists Discovered 2,000-Year-old Brain

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British archaeologists discovered what appears to be the oldest human brain in Britain. The brain was found inside a decapitated skull, buried 2,000 years ago in a small hole in the ground near York. The discovery dates back to the Iron Age.

Scientists consider that the skull could be from a human sacrifice, which involved decapitation and burial of the head with the goal of appeasing the gods or protecting against evil spirits. Researchers were surprised by the condition of the finding - the brain preserved quite well, taking into consideration that it usually decays after death.

During an excavation that took place near the University of York, archaeologist Rachel Cubitt managed to find the skull and jaw bone. When she wiped away the soil she noticed a strange yellow substance inside the base of the skull.

"It jogged my memory of a university lecture on the rare survival of ancient brain tissue. We gave the skull special conservation treatment as a result and sought expert medical opinion," she said.

Researchers took the found skull to York Hospital, where the finding was analyzed with the help of a CT scanner, which is usually used on living patients. The scanner showed a blob of tissue, having 1/3rd of the size of a normal human brain. The blob had patterns and folds that looked almost like a modern organ, reports Daily Mail.

According to Dr Sonia O'Connor, a research fellow in archaeological sciences at the University of Bradford, the brain is in a good condition and is the oldest ever found in the UK and one of the world's earliest. Dr Sonia O'Connor was the one to analyze the remains found in York. She believes that the brain could date back to the period of the late Iron Age, somewhere between 300BC and 1 BC.

Scientists were able to identify the approximate age of the brain with the help of radio carbon dating tests. They look forward to find why the brain preserved so well by performing a chemical analysis.

According to Dr Richard Hall, director of archaeology at the York Archaeological Trust, the skull belongs to an adult, but scientists cannot say whether it was a man or a woman. However, they are confident about the fact that the skull was removed from the body and remained buried in the pit since the Iron Age.

The brain of people who lived on the territory of Britain during the Iron Age was similar to ours from the physical point of view. During the war against the Romans, in the period when Julius Caesar ruled Roman Empire, Britons proved to be skilled construction workers and experienced farmers, being able to create kingdoms the size of contemporary cities.

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