Exceptionally Preserved Brain Discovered Inside Waterlogged Pit


A 2,684-year-old human skull that included an exceptionally well-preserved human brain was discovered in a waterlogged pit in Yorkshire, UK. The brain is the oldest known intact human brain from Europe and Asia, according to the authors of the study.

The scientists published their findings in the Journal of Archaeological Science. The authors also believe that it is one of the best-preserved ancient brains in the world. The early Iron Age man belonged to a man in his thirties, states lead author Sonia O’Connor. He was killed by hanging, as was discovered by examining the telltale damage to the neck vertebrae.


The head was carefully severed from the neck using a small blade. It was used to cut through the throat and vertebrae, and left fine cuts on the bone. The brain was found in Heslington, Yorkshire, in the UK. O’Connor suspects that the site served as some ceremonial function that persisted from the Bronze Age through early into the Roman period. The site contains pits marked with single stakes. A headless body of a red deer had been deposited into the same channel.


In the air, brain tissue will quickly decay into liquid form. The fact that the head was either placed or had fallen into the waterlogged pit that was devoid of oxygen played a vital role in its preservation, since the decapitation would have produced a gaping wound that would have been open to immediate infection from micro-organisms.

Reference: “Exceptional preservation of a prehistoric human brain from Heslington, Yorkshire, UK” by Sonia O’Connor, Esam Ali, Salim Al-Sabah, Danish Anwar, Ed Bergström, Keri A. Brown, Jo Buckberry, Stephen Buckley, Matthew Collins, John Denton, Konrad M. Dorling, Adam Dowle, Phil Duffey, Howell G. M. Edwards, Elsa Correia Faria, Peter Gardner, Andy Gledhill, Karl Heaton, Carl Heron, Rob Janaway, Brendan J. Keely, David King, Anthony Masinton, Kirsty Penkman, Axel Petzold, Matthew D. Pickering, Martin Rumsby, Holger Schutkowski, Kimberley A. Shackleton, Jerry Thomas, Jane Thomas-Oates, Maria-Raimonda Usai, Andrew S. Wilson and Terry O’Connor, 4 March 2011, Journal of Archaeological Science.
DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2011.02.030

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