In 2009 archaeologists from the York Archaeological Trust found one of the rarest items in all of the field of archaeology: preserved soft tissue. It is extremely rare in archaeology to discover soft tissue remains of creatures. When skin, flesh, hair, and more are discovered it is entirely unique and has the potential to forever change our understanding of days gone by. So, what was the rare soft tissue find that the York Archaeological Trust discovered? A brain.
This brain was discovered in Heslington, York, England during the excavation of an Iron-age dig. One of the items discovered was a skull, with the jaw and two vertebrae still attached. This find wasn’t incredibly surprising, but when the skull was being cleaned, Rachel Cubitt noticed there was something...inside.
The 2,000-year-old brain was harboring a secret, it was harboring a brain. Rachel notified the team and they immediately reached out for an expert medical opinion. Shortly after, the skull was scanned at York Hospital and the existence of a preserved brain was confirmed. Dr. Sonia O’Connor, a research fellow at the University of Bradford said, "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."
A team of over 30 researchers have been studying the brain ever since and have discovered a few interesting things about the person behind the brain. This person is a man and is believed to have lived during the 6th century BC. Researchers have also discovered his cause of death. At the time of his death, he was somewhere between 26 and 45. It appears that, through analyzing the remaining vertebrae, that he was hit hard on the neck and then the neck was severed with a small, sharp knife. The head was removed completely shortly after he was killed and then the body was buried. Where he was buried was a clay-rich ground with a fair amount of moisture, which provided a sealed and oxygen-free burial.
Although the brain did change (for example, it shrank) it preserved roughly the same shape as well as defining brain-features that are found only in brain tissue.
We know how this man died, but the reason(s) for his death remain unknown, although some believe it was ritualistic. The brain is now known as ‘The Heslington Brain.’
The featured image is of the Heslington Brain and is liscensed by the University of York under fair use.