Grey matter: The 2,500-year-old preserved brain has baffled scientists after it was found during an excavation at the University of York
Archaeologists believe they have discovered one of the world’s oldest brains that once belonged to a man in Iron Age Britain who was sacrificed in a ritual killing.
Scientists found the cranium in a muddy pit when they were excavating a site before a new campus was to be built at the University of York. When a researcher reached inside the skull, she was stunned to discover the soft tissue of the 2,500-year-old brain still preserved.
Fractures and marks on the bones suggest the man, who was aged between 26 and 45, died most probably from hanging, after which he was carefully decapitated and his head was then buried on its own.
Scientists have been baffled by how the brain tissue – which usually rots after a couple at years – managed to remain intact for so long.
‘The survival of brain remains where no other soft tissues are preserved is extremely rare,’ said Sonia O’Connor, research fellow in archaeological sciences at the University of Bradford.
‘This brain is particularly exciting because it is very well preserved, even though it is the oldest recorded find of this type in the UK, and one of the earliest worldwide.’
Philip Duffey, a neurologist at York Hospital who scanned the skull, said: ‘I’m amazed and excited that scanning has shown structures which appear to be unequivocally of brain origin.’
Baffled: Dr Sonia O Connor, from the University of Bradford, examines the remains of the brain