THIS is the left cerebral hemisphere of an 18-month-old infant who lived some 800 years ago. Such finds are extremely rare, because nervous tissue is soft and normally begins to decompose soon after death, so this specimen is unique in that it has been far better preserved than any other. Although reduced by about 80% of its original weight, many of its anatomical features have remained intact. The frontal, temporal and occipital lobes have retained their original shape; the gyri and sulci (the grooves and furrows on the surface, respectively labelled G and S, above) are easily recognizable; and amazingly, it contains the identifiable remnants of neurons.
Archaeologists have unearthed a 2,000-year-old skull containing what they believe to be the remains of a fossilized brain, while excavating a site at the University of York.
Rachel Cubitt, one of the researchers on the dig, felt something moving inside the skull and noticed “an unusual yellow substance” when she peered through an opening in its base.
Later on, a computed tomography (CT) scan performed by neurologists at York Hospital revealed that the skull contained a shrunken brain-shaped structure. Further analyses will now be carried out to establish whether the yellow substance is indeed brain tissue.
The brain consists of soft tissue and so does not normally fossilize. This finding is therefore extremely unusual, and the researchers will be very keen to understand how it came to be preserved for such a long period of time.