Nearly 2,700 years ago, in an area of today’s Heslington UK, a middle-aged man was executed. Immediately after his death, his body began to decompose. The internal organs and flesh began to turn into mud. His hair turned to dust.
In 2008, archeologists found his remains, with fragments of bones and skulls remaining. A broken neck vertebra has confirmed the cause of death, it seems he was hanged. But when they looked inside the muddy skull, they suddenly found a piece of brain tissue still in shape.
Normally, the brain is one of the fastest decaying organs of the body. Therefore, the brain fragment of a man in Heslington has been a major riddle for more than a decade with science.
Why is a piece of the brain of a man from the Iron Age still intact to this day, even though it is not kept in a preserved environment?
Mysterious piece of brain nearly 2,700 years old, still intact even without being marinated
Exactly who is this man found in Heslington, why he must die is probably the question will never be answered. But the analysis of the scene helped archaeologists visualize the context of his death.
Carbon dating suggests it was a middle-aged man. He breathed his last breath between 673 and 482 BC. After being executed, perhaps hanged, his head was cut off and thrown into a pit. This pit contains a fine layer of sediment.
Normally, soft tissues in the body can only be preserved in 3 ways: hygroscopic, frozen or kept in anaerobic, acidic environment. But this pit does not have any of these conditions. As a result, other body parts, including the decomposed man’s hair.
Only a fragment of the brain of the surviving man surprised archaeologists, when they first saw it. The caramel fragment is intact and has a yellowish caramel color, it looks like a small piece of tofu, which is only 80% of the adult brain.
The skull was found by scientists in the area of the village of Heslington in the United Kingdom today
Taking over the specimen and the puzzle about it for more than a decade, Associate Professor Axel Petzold, at the College of Neurology at University College London College spent many months working, patiently analyzing the residual protein samples. in the brain piece.
Eventually, he found the first clues to explain this incredible tissue preservation. “The way this man is killed or buried can lead to long-term conservation of his brain“, Petzold said.
Prior to that, he had many years of experience in researching two types of protein fibers in the brain: neurofilaments and glial acid (GFAP) protein fibers. Both types of fibers act like scaffolding, keeping the brain tissue structures together.
When Petzold and his team looked at Heslington’s brain, they found that these silk fibers were still present in it, giving the idea that it was the nerve fibers and GFAP fibers that contributed to the department’s extraordinary preservation. Brain.
In most cases, the body of a corpse will rot after the enzymes from the environment and microorganisms of the dead person eat and digest brain tissue.
But the tests that Petzold performed showed that these enzymes were deactivated within 3 months. That’s enough time for the proteins in the brain fragment in Heslington to automatically fold into a stable structure.
Something has seeped through the skull and preserved this brain.
Perhaps an acidic fluid has invaded the brain and prevented these enzymes from gouging out just before or immediately after the person’s death, Petzold said. He gave more scenarios about the man’s death. Accordingly, in addition to the fake hanging device, he may have been hit in the head or beheaded directly.
Normally, nerve fiber proteins are found in greater concentrations in the white matter, located in the inner parts of the brain. But the Heslington brain exhibits an anomaly, with more filaments in the outer regions, gray matter.
Petzold suggests that many factors can help prevent the brain-degrading enzyme from starting in its outer regions, like an acid solution permeating into the skull.
“The data shows the protease [enzyme phân hủy] of the neck brain may have been inhibited by an unknown compound that diffuses from outside the brain to deeper structures.“he wrote in the research report.
The mystery that Heslington’s skull hides in it is not just a puzzle for itself.
In fact, the Heslington brain fragment is not the oldest neurological tissue that humans have ever found. In the past, archaeologists have also unearthed smaller pieces of brain tissue, dating to 8,000 years inside a skull buried in water in Sweden.
But the mystery that the Heslington brain piece hides in its excellent preservation state is not just a puzzle for itself. The findings of two types of protein fibers in Petzold’s brain could also explain a common neurological disease, Alzheimer’s.
The clustering of protein fibers is also a neurological marker, a process that takes place in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. To treat the disease, doctors will have to find a way to reverse the process. Petzold’s team looked at the protein clusters in the Heslington brain fragment and found it took a whole year to spit out.
This suggests that treatments for neurodegenerative diseases involving protein cluster contraction need to be taken in a longer-term approach than previously thought.
The new research is published in The Royal Society Interface