4,000-Year-Old Brain Preserved After Boiling in Own Juices

By Breanna Draxler | October 4, 2013 3:00 pm
4,000-year-old brain found in Turkey

Would you believe that this charred chunk is one of the world’s oldest preserved human brains? Well, you should. Because it is.

Archaeologists in western Turkey uncovered four human skeletons in a burial mound a few years ago, which they say date back 4,000 years, to the Bronze Age. The researchers could see the brains through cracks in the skulls, which appeared to have been burned, along with the rest of the skeletal remains and other wooden objects around them. Burning is generally destructive to living remains, but in the case of the brain pictured here, it is actually the reason it was so well preserved.

New Scientist described how some putative blaze preserved the brains:

The flames would have consumed any oxygen in the rubble and boiled the brains in their own fluids. The resulting lack of moisture and oxygen in the environment helped prevent tissue breakdown.

the charred remains of a Bronze Age brain found in Turkey

The burned brain.

Soil chemistry at the site also helped. Potassium, magnesium and aluminum in the dirt reacted with fatty acids in the soft brain tissue to help the brains keep their shape. (These same qualities in the clay-like soil in the nearby city of Kütahya made it one of the most famous centers for tile and ceramic production in Ottoman Turkey.)

Boron, once used to preserve mummies, was also found in the surrounding soil and turned the brains into something akin to human ceramics, or “bioporcelain” as the researchers described in their study recently published in HOMO—Journal of Comparative Human Biology.

Finding brains this old and this well-preserved is almost unheard of in archaeology today, and it opens up new opportunities for research into ancient tumors, hemorrhaging, and even the history of neurological disorders. And we think the idea of human ceramics likewise opens new possibilities for horror films…

Images courtesy M.A. Altinoz, et. al. 

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Mind & Brain, top posts
MORE ABOUT: archaeology, brain
  • Buddy199

    Looks like an episode of Zombie Gourmet.

    • Heather Lucas

      Or Hannibal. I can only imagine the bouquet of of a brain at this vintage… 😉

  • SixSixSix

    Mind blowing, or boiling as the case may be.

    Wonder why they were burnt in the first place?

  • Guest

    Or Hannibal. I can only imagine the bouquet of of a brain at this vintage…

  • jaimie bisbee

    My Uncle Brandon got a stunning Toyota Tacoma only from working part-time
    off a macbook air… go to this web-site J­a­m­2­0­.­ℂ­o­m

  • colindenronden

    When your brain goes to pot, it calls the kettle black.

    • Joshua Lundquist

      Discover Magazine comments are the best comments

  • http://rambansal-the-theosoph.blogspot.com Ram Bansal, the Theosoph

    May be possible technically, but time scale of the skeleton and the brain seems to be elongated. Human civilization began only 2,600 years back. All claims of older civilizations are farce.

    • Plenum

      Oh, Ram. One of the hallmarks of “civilization” is language… How old is Greek? Sanskrit? Chinese? All of these predate 600 BC. The Romans were setting up the beginnings of their empire 2,600 years ago. Farce? Please explain.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com John Beatrice

      Ram, do you know how to boil water?

  • Brian Nabors

    So Ram scientists can create computers fly to the moon, and Mars and for that matter the edge of the solar system but we don’t have a clue as to how old things are.
    I find that incredible!!!

  • Randal Sutherlin

    I think Ram is a “farce”… Chinese civilization goes back at least 4,000 year to the Xia dynasty. There were probably ones even before that.

    • http://rambansal-the-theosoph.blogspot.com Ram Bansal, the Theosoph

      Surely, I can’t say about Chinese civilization.


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