Ancient brain found in England

Scientists discovered a brain in northern England that is at least 2,000 years old. The brain was found inside the, er, skull of its owner at an archaeological site at York University.
 Cnn 2008 World Europe 12 12 York.Oldest.Brain Art.York.Brain.Yat They believe the skull, which was found on its own in a muddy pit, may have been a ritual offering.

Rachel Cubitt, who was taking part in the dig, described how she felt something move inside the cranium as she cleaned the soil-covered skull's outer surface. Peering through the base of the skull, she spotted an unusual yellow substance.
"Britan's oldest human brain unearthed"


  1. It amused me that John Humphrys on this morning’s ‘Today’ programme was surprised to learn that the brain was lurking inside a skull. Although since it’s not immediately obvious that he possesses a brain of his own, maybe he doesn’t automatically make the link between one and the other.

    Humphrys is the sort of BBC dinosaur who is proud to display his ignorance of science and technology (and assumes his listeners are as moronic as he is), has publicly stated that his own programme is by far the most important on the BBC, is so innumerate that he can barely count up to five, and hectors every scientist interviewee on the programme with a question starting “but what’s the point of spending money on [your project/eliminating smallpox/investigating the surface of Mars]” when the same money could be spent on flagship current affairs programmes on the BBC.

  2. Would the ‘ritual burial” thing argue for this being a normal or abnormal brain?
    Anyhow it would be enlightening if they can tease out its fine structure and compare with more modern (and perhaps not-so-modern) examples.
    Although IIRC 2000 years is not a long enough time for anatomical evolution to occur in humans, perhaps brains are ‘special’, being so plastic and responsive to the environment’s influences, and all.
    Comparative neuro-anatomy across time.

  3. So how did the brain “survive” intact? Ground temperature? Soil composition? Theories people! Let’s hear ’em.

  4. It would be even more interesting if they had found an android head that had been buried 2000 years ago….wait…I saw that on TV…

  5. It sounds like the mud may have protected it. I’ve heard of bodies being preserved in bogs.

    Imagine using that new imaging hardware on it someday. Being able to put into images what this guy may have seen is an exciting prospect. Think it will ever happen?

  6. Tough to get those magneto-radio-fluorescent markers to circulate in a dead brain, no matter how fresh (or in this case not) it may be.

  7. @ #4 — i had never heard the term “zombie truffle” before 2 minutes ago, but now i feel compelled to work it into my conversation today somehow. thank you!

  8. what’s a “brain northern England” should it be hyphenated?

    in all seriousness, is it just me or is there rampant typo-ing on BB recently?

    i have to re-read several articles a day, in attempts to figure out what is trying to be conveyed. but, maybe i am just getting old

    maybe they are [sic] from the article submitters?

  9. @CinemaJay

    The location where the skull was found was described as a ‘muddy pit’. I’m sure that soil pH played a factor but the water was probably equally important. To me, that indicates the possiblity of a largely anaerobic environment which provides better preservation of biological materials of all kinds.

  10. Hmmm. Sounds like the seeds of a zombie plague. I’ll be stocking up on ammo on my drive home. Thanks for the heads-up.

  11. Actually Florida holds the record

    “But what’s remarkable is that we have even found brain tissue with some of the remains. It’s truly one of the most intriguing archaeological sites in North America.””

    But yes. You need an anoxic, damp environment with rapid burial to preserve organics. Wet sites though a pain to excavate are an Archaeological dream.

    At Clacton in England they have 300,000 year old wood spear. In east germany they have 400 000 year old spears.

  12. “Peering through the base of the skull, she spotted an unusual yellow substance”

    Ohhhh, I’ve seen how this movie turns out. Everything seems fine at first, but the next thing you know the archaeologist is chanting in Latin and it’s unearthly tentacle assaults for everyone.

  13. Regarding archaeological specimens in the mud:

    All over Denmark, preserved by the boggy groundwater, lie treasures of Bronze Age information in the form of wonderfully preserved burials. Bog water is highly acid, and acid preserves skin and leather, hair and wool, horns and fingernails almost perfectly. Many times it has happened that a peasant cutting peat for fuel out in the bogs has come upon a well-preserved dead body and called in the police to see who had recently been murdered. Fingerprinting the perfect swirls on the victim’s hands yields nothing in the police files, but archaeological sleuthing soon shows that despite the perfectly preserved face, hairdo, and woolen clothing, the deceased died some two to four thousand years ago. [p. 86]

    Whatever fell into the much below was lost for good — to them, but preserved for us, since the perpetually soggy, airless, alkaline lake mud happens to preserve plant material quite well. (Note that alkali, which destroys animal remains, has exactly the opposite effect from acid bog water, which destroys plants but preserves animal skin and hair.) [p. 90]

    From Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years : Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. (Fascinating book, btw, well worth reading. I’m only a junior-level fiber/textile junkie, and I kept going squee! want to try that! of course we need a loom in a 1-bedroom apartment! while reading it.)

  14. OoerictO @ 11

    maybe they are [sic] from the article submitters?

    Did you accidently mistypo your sic-typo?

    There / their, surely (?)

  15. I am surely not the only person who feels he may have identified the actual original owner of this brain? Isn’t that Montgomery Burns?

  16. First: Whatever anyboddy thinks about this finding one thing it is *not* is a no brainer.

    Second For the SciFi crowd AND YOUR HEARD IT HERE (on Boing) FIRST!!!

    Say for the purpose of SciFi this was visual cortex that was found, and say we could with a super advanced (THIS IS SCIFI) fMRI recreate what great great … gramps (or gramma) was seeing back then.


    And I got this idea from Michael Crichton – *after* he died.

    I was in the mindset or frame of mind (if you mind) to think up this idea in my mind.

  17. About 15 years ago a human brain of about that age turned up in England. Police were dredging a peat bog near the home of a man suspected of killing his wife. When they found a woman’s skull with brain, some skin and hair still attached, they felt they had enough to arrest the man, and he ‘fessed up — and showed them the (different) location where he’d buried her remains. The first skull turned out to be much. much older than anyone thought. Further digging revealed a full grave with all the trimmings; the skull was that of a wealthy Roman woman from about 2,000 years ago. The acids of the peat bog had preserved her brain & hair.

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