Following the TB skeleton at Heslington East :
Iron age brain dug up after 2,000 years
Archaeologists have unearthed Britain’s oldest surviving human brain, it was revealed today.
The Iron Age brain, which is at least 2,000 years old, was spotted inside a skull found in a muddy pit during excavations in the Heslington area of York.
It is believed to be one of the oldest to be found anywhere in the world.
Archaeologist Rachel Cubitt, from the York Archaeological Trust, noticed the brain as she cleaned the soil-covered bone.
Ms Cubitt said she looked through the base of the skull after feeling something move inside and saw an unusual yellow substance.
“It jogged my memory of a university lecture on the rare survival of ancient brain tissue,” she said.
The team sought expert medical opinion and the skull was scanned at York Hospital where the existence of the brain was confirmed.
Philip Duffey, a consultant neurologist at the hospital, said: “I’m amazed and excited that scanning has shown structures which appear to be unequivocally of brain origin.”
Dr Sonia O’Connor, research fellow in archaeological sciences at the University of Bradford, added: “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.”
The brain was discovered in an area of extensive prehistoric farming landscape of fields, trackways and buildings dating back to at least 300BC.
It is believed the skull may have been a ritual offering.
Scientists now hope further tests may tell them more about the individual the brain belonged to by revealing why such brains survive death and burial and giving more information about burial practices.
Professor Brian Cantor, vice-chancellor of the University of York, which commissioned the dig, said: “The skull is another stunning discovery and its further study will provide us with incomparable insights into life in the Iron Age.”
The find is the second major discovery during archaeological investigations on the site of the university’s campus expansion at Heslington East.