This 4,000-Year-Old Brain Was Burned, Boiled, Shaken, and Is Still Intact

It might look a bit like a lump of charcoal, but this is a 4,000-year-old human brain that's been shaken, scorched and boiled in its own juices. Somehow, though, it's still in one piece.

It is, in fact, one of the oldest brains ever found. It was discovered in Seyitömer Höyük, a Bronze Age settlement in western Turkey, and its preservation is a mystery which is slowly being unpicked. New Scientist explains:

The skeletons were found burnt in a layer of sediment that also contained charred wooden objects. Given that the region is tectonically active, Altinoz speculates that an earthquake flattened the settlement and buried the people before fire spread through the rubble...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 soil surrounding the bodies was also rich in potassium, magnesium and aluminium that reacted with fatty acids in human tissue to form a soapy substance called adipocere—or, colloquially, "corpse wax"—which helped preserve the shape of brain. Nice. [Journal of Comparative Human Biology via New Scientist]