Prehistoric human brain mystifies scientists

Scientists are mystified by the discovery that proteins in the brain of a prehistoric human remained preserved for over 2600 years

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An international research team led by Axel Petzold have reported proteins contributed to the preservation of a human brain for 2600 years. The brain was found in a skull encased by mud during an archeological dig in Heslington, York, the United Kingdom. Even though the brain was shrunken, the exterior morphology was retained.  

The discovery is remarkable because the human brain usually dissolves rapidly after death. In the burial environment, there was no evidence of artificial preservation and the body was exposed to ambient temperature, so identifying the mechanisms underlying the stability of the brain proteins over such a long period of time remains a mystery. 

Another feature of the study is that researchers normally only have teeth or skull fragments to determine where an individual is placed in human evolution. Based on knowledge acquired from these ancient proteins, scientists can develop new techniques to investigate areas in evolution and medicine. 

Discoveries like this are a reminder there is still so much we have to learn about the brain and it is fascinating to know a mysterious human from the ancient past will make an impact on modern day science research.  

Read more about this incredible finding in Protein aggregate formation permits millennium-old brain preservation published by Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Image - mollyroselee

Gabrielle Ahern

Managing Community Editor, npj Science of Learning Community

I have developed an interesting portfolio of skills and experience in science communication. My qualifications include a BA (GU), BMarSt.Hon (UQ), CertIV in TESOL (ACC), GCertTertTLP (UOW) and a GCertJ (UQ). You're welcome to contact me, if you would like to join the Community and contribute a post.

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