Archaeologists have uncovered the oldest BRAIN in Europe in a decapitated skull — dating back 2,500 years.
The cranium, belonging to the victim of a bloody ritual killing, was discovered in a muddy pit in Heslington, during an excavation by the University of York.
A researcher found the solitary skull lying face down in the soil and was stunned when she reached inside and felt soft grey matter inside.
The yellow substance was removed from the skull and initial scans proved it was shrunken and brain-shaped, while further tests confirmed it was a brain.
Carbon dating has put the age of the brain back to 673-482BC – making it the oldest brain to have ever been discovered in Europe.
Brain matter usually rots away in just a couple of years.
Dr Sonia O’Connor, research fellow in archaeological sciences at the University of Bradford, called the find ”exciting”.
She said: ”The survival of brain remains where no other soft tissues are preserved is extremely rare.
”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.”
She added that the head had most probably been buried shortly after death, which could explain why it has been preserved so well.
The skull was found as scientists excavated part of the University of York’s campus in the York village of Heslington, before work began on a £750m expansion to the university.
Fractures on the second neck vertebrae point to the possibility that the man was hanged before he was decapitated and his head buried alone.
A cluster of about nine horizontal fine cut-marks made by a thin-bladed instrument, such as a knife, can be seen on the front of the brain.
The university has now put together a team of scientists, archaeologists, chemists, bio-archaeologists and neurologists to establish how the brain survived for so long.
There are no traces of usual preservation methods, such as embalming or smoking, being used on the remains and only the bone has remained – as all other soft tissue has decayed.
Researchers are also trying to establish how lipids and proteins within the matter preserved the brain, and what happened between the man dying and his burial.
Since the brain’s discovery, they have kept it in strictly controlled conditions and have used sophisticated equipment, including a CT scanner at York Hospital.
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.
”I think that it will be very important to establish how these structures have survived, whether there are traces of biological material within them and, if not, what is their composition.”