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Science

Exceptionally Preserved 2,600-Year-Old Brain Found 167

Posted by Soulskill
from the fire-that-bad-boy-up dept.
TrueSatan writes with this quote from Discovery News: "A human skull dated to about 2,684 years ago with an 'exceptionally preserved' human brain still inside of it was recently discovered in a waterlogged U.K. pit, according to a new Journal of Archaeological Science study. The brain is the oldest known intact human brain from Europe and Asia, according to the authors, who also believe it's one of the best-preserved ancient brains in the world (PDF). 'The early Iron Age skull belonged to a man, probably in his thirties,' according to lead author Sonia O'Connor. 'Cause of death is rarely possible to determine in archaeological remains, but in this case, damage to the neck vertebrae is consistent with a hanging.'"
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Exceptionally Preserved 2,600-Year-Old Brain Found

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 17, 2012 @10:11AM (#41023265)

    "The brain is the oldest known intact human brain from Europe and Asia" – So I take it the brain still works?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 17, 2012 @10:43AM (#41023667)

      Quick, someone send it to the Houses of Parliament! An intact brain there will revolutionise our system of government!

      • Quick, someone send it to the Houses of Parliament! An intact brain there will revolutionise our system of government!

        Unfortunately, it appears that the brain was removed from the skull in several large pieces.

    • by readin (838620) on Friday August 17, 2012 @11:12AM (#41024049)
      Something that occasionally bothers me is the question of how much a brain works after it is dead. We don't really understand consciousness so we don't know how much of the brain is responsible for it. In fact the only way we know (suspect?) our fellow humans are conscious is they tell us - ok I'm wondering in to Turing test territory which isn't where I want to go.

      Suppose we were to hit this old intact brain with a jolt of electricity - would it feel it? Would it be conscious at some level for a brief moment but completely unable to inform us? Would it suffer a brief horrible dream? It makes me feel like I want to have my brain completely obliterated somehow when I die so I can be sure there is nothing left that is capable of suffering.
      • by schlachter (862210) on Friday August 17, 2012 @11:36AM (#41024325)

        The brain being intact at a gross level doesn't mean that it's intact at a cellular level...so I doubt the network topology of the brain is still in place. Besides, the brain has state which decays without active maintenance, so network topology alone is not sufficient.

      • by diakka (2281)

        You clearly have never seen Return of the Living Dead. Just destroying the brain is not enough. You must ether be cremated or at least have an ample supply of brains to eat, otherwise you will be driven mad by the pain of your own flesh rotting.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        None. After the brain is deprived of oxygen for a few minutes the cells die. Neurons have the highest cellular metabolic rate, among those the retina has the very very highest (you'll go blind before you go brain dead from general oxygen deprivation to the brain, or from sugar deprivation such as low sugar for a diabetic). The synapses of your brain won't fire without energy, so deprive them of that energy (sugar and oxygen) and they stop firing, thus you stop thinking. Low levels will cause your though

        • by icebike (68054) *

          On a side note, one wonders how long could one keep a guillotined head alive if it were immediately connected to a blood supply (heart lung machine).

      • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Friday August 17, 2012 @12:20PM (#41024759)

        >>>Suppose we were to hit this old intact brain with a jolt of electricity - would it feel it? Would it be conscious at some level for a brief moment but completely unable to inform us?

        The neurons disconnect from one another when they die. When you hold a dead brain, you are holding a blank slate. Which is why freezing people after they die is pointless. Even if you could revive the body, the brain has nothing in it. (No memory; the person would be a vegetable.)

        • by sjames (1099)

          In general, when someone is declared dead, their individual cells are still alive. The problem is tthat they will self destruct as soon as sufficient oxygen is made available (reperfusion).

          I suppose the idea is to freeze the person during that window and hope that in the future we figure out how to solve the reperfusion problem, thaw tissue without causing cellular damage, and won't mind having a bunch of extra people nobody knows with no relevant skills hanging around. That last bvit seems to be a bit of a

      • how much a brain works after it is dead

        It doesn't.

        We don't really understand consciousness so we don't know how much of the brain is responsible for it

        All of it.

        Suppose we were to hit this old intact brain with a jolt of electricity - would it feel it?

        Yes. The same way a rock feels the chisel splitting it. As long as you define "feel" as "is affected by".

        Would it be conscious at some level for a brief moment but completely unable to inform us?

        No.

        Would it suffer a brief horrible dream?

        No. The patterns, structure, and chemical reactions required for processing dreams no longer exist

        It makes me feel like I want to have my brain completely obliterated somehow when I die so I can be sure there is nothing left that is capable of suffering

        Rest easy friend, the meatspace is all there is. And even when you're alive and functioning, there's no suffering with structural damage to the brain. You're diminished, sure, and can be a vegestable afterwards. But pain is a tool of the system. It isn't applied when mucking about wit

    • by ackthpt (218170) on Friday August 17, 2012 @11:16AM (#41024101) Homepage Journal

      "The brain is the oldest known intact human brain from Europe and Asia" – So I take it the brain still works?

      The card reads Abby Normal. Should be OK, what could go wrong?

    • by Crudely_Indecent (739699) on Friday August 17, 2012 @11:25AM (#41024205) Journal

      We know that he didn't weigh the same as a duck - those people were burned.

    • by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Friday August 17, 2012 @11:38AM (#41024349) Homepage
      Not only does it work, it is setting educational policy in Kentucky.
    • by drfreak (303147)

      Only because it was perfectly preserved inside a tinfoil hat.

  • by al3 (1285708) on Friday August 17, 2012 @10:14AM (#41023283)
    But it's only 2012!
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Earth is 6000 years old, you silly.

    • by ccguy (1116865) on Friday August 17, 2012 @10:21AM (#41023371) Homepage

      But it's only 2012!

      I'll use an analogy to explain how this is possible. Imagine a game that is set in medieval times in which you are exploring castles 500 years old. The game is new, but the castles in it were old right from the start.

      God played the same trick with us. The universe is 6000 years old, but when it was created (when he inserted the CD, if it makes you feel more comfy) it already had extinct species, people that had been dead for a few centuries and so on.
      Clear now?

      • by schitso (2541028)
        +1 "Poe's law"
        • by ccguy (1116865)

          +1 "Poe's law"

          I apologize. I'd like to add

          :-)

          To my original comment.

          You never know who's going to google you.

      • EA wants to have a word with that "God" you talk about for copyright infringement. He clearly stole their idea.

    • They didn't account for leap years. Yes, yes, we only have one every 4 years, but in the older days when everything was better we had a LOT more of them!

      *sigh* Oh the good ol' times...

    • by PCM2 (4486) on Friday August 17, 2012 @11:43AM (#41024405) Homepage

      It might only be 2012, but here's an article [livescience.com] about this same brain from 2011, and it was actually discovered in 2008. "Old news," indeed.

      • by ignavus (213578)

        It might only be 2012, but here's an article [livescience.com] about this same brain from 2011, and it was actually discovered in 2008. "Old news," indeed.

        So this old brain is nothing new?

    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      But it's only 2012!

      No. It will be 2,684 years next Wednesday at noon.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Abby . . . Normal. I'm almost sure that was the name.

  • by 25or6to4 (739028) on Friday August 17, 2012 @10:16AM (#41023315)
    Apparently the zombie apocalypse will last longer than expected if their food source stays preserved for 2000 years!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...can I have it back please?

  • 3000 years is less than human civilization. This brain is younger than parts of Old Testament.

    If you want to study human brains like that, why not take a trip to a morgue? We are in no short of cadavers donated to science.

    • Your hypothesis is that brains haven't changed much in 3,000 years. This brain is a good test of your hypothsis. What exactly is your problem with that?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sinij (911942)
        Thing is, there is very little you could test unless you get this 3,000 year old brain to boot up. Think of it this way - you are handed 2 non-working CPUs, could you tell if they are different? Perhaps if they have physically different (but human brains naturally deviate from the norm), but unless you have an ability to reverse-engineer these CPUs (and we don't have that ability for human brains) both would be just chunks of silicon.

        Related: Have you seen TED talk by Juan Enriquez?
        http://www.ted.com/t [ted.com]
    • by cusco (717999)
      Not civilization in northern and western Europe. That region was a barbaric, uncivilized backwater until the 16th century. When the Chinese built the Forbidden City they invited dignitaries from the entire known world, as far away as Timbuktu, to witness the opening ceremonies. Not only were they not invited, news of the event didn't even reach France and Germany for almost a century. It wasn't until the discovery of the Americas and the looting of the Aztec and Inca gold and silver that the region actu
    • by BeanThere (28381)

      What good is this shiny pearl thing, snorted the pig ..

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      3000 years is less than human civilization.

      Are you that ignorant or just trolling? The Mayans and Egyptians had civilizations going back to 6,000 BC. The Thais and Chinese have written histories going back 5000 years. Between the Mayans and Egyptians, that's over 8000 years of civilizations (600 years BC+2000 years AD).

    • a 3000 year old brain may have some differences. The last 3000 years a lot of crazy things have happened to civilizations, that caused a fare amount of changes in breeding policies, and cultural effects, diets.
      Roman Empire, Christianity, End Of Roman Empire, Dark Ages, Renascence, Spanish expansion, English Expansion, American Expansion....

      We assume that ancient man was the same as us, if he was just born 3k years later he would just fit in fine... But that may not be the case. Perhaps with cross breading

      • The degree of Neandethalism would probably not be one of the characteristics shown by the brain. This person dates back to 1000BC. Neanderthals died out around 30,000BC. That type of information would more probably come from DNA analysis than organ morphology.
  • by stevegee58 (1179505) on Friday August 17, 2012 @10:29AM (#41023509) Journal
    Oblig Trek reference.
  • If he was probably hanged, then he may have been unfit for society (although that's not conclusive, as whoever did the hanging could easily have been the one unfit for society) so from this we can figure out the guy's name was probably Abby Someone, and his brain can be used for experiments.

  • ...next to a sign with his name on it. I think it was something like "Abby Normal."
  • So, unnaturally preserved brain and they were executed by hanging...clearly this evidence is consistent with this individual being a witch, lol.
    • by Siberwulf (921893)
      No evidence they weighed as much as a duck....
    • by cusco (717999) <brian.bixby@gmai l . c om> on Friday August 17, 2012 @11:13AM (#41024059)
      Actually there are quite a number (hundreds) of preserved corpses of people that were hanged from this period which have been recovered from bogs in northern Europe. The tannins in bog water preserve the skin quite well, in several cases police were called first because the discoverers thought it was a recent murder. Some of them still have the rope around their neck. This site was probably anoxic as well if the soft tissues were also preserved. A quick search on "bog bodies" will bring up a plethora of information.
      • by dbIII (701233)
        There's even a song about one of them: "Jerdacuttup man" by the Triffids.
  • Calling it now, it is someone Connor MacLeod killed.
  • by Anonymous Codger (96717) on Friday August 17, 2012 @10:38AM (#41023617)

    ...it's in better shape than mine.

  • "The cranium is well designed to protect the brain in life and can, under the right circumstances, remain on duty long after the normal expectation of service," he said.

    "Normal expectation of service"! Gotta remember that one.

  • "about"??? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mark-t (151149) <markt@@@lynx...bc...ca> on Friday August 17, 2012 @10:46AM (#41023711) Journal

    ".. dated to about 2,684 years ago"

    Saying that it happened about 2684 years ago implies (at least to me) that they can date it between precisely 2683 and 2685 years. Does it not strike anyone else as odd that they could pinpoint something that long ago so precisely?

    • They probably used dendrochronology from some piece of wood found nearby. There are databases of ring growths going back thousands of years so it's possible to date to an exact year.
    • by Hillgiant (916436) on Friday August 17, 2012 @12:04PM (#41024609)

      ".. dated to about 2,684 years ago"

      Saying that it happened about 2684 years ago implies (at least to me) that they can date it between precisely 2683 and 2685 years. Does it not strike anyone else as odd that they could pinpoint something that long ago so precisely?

      It is a much rounder number in metric.

    • They were converting from metric to imperial. In metric years they got the precision right, 2684 in metric years is 1600rs.
    • In the linked PDF article, see the end of the second column of the third page, right above Figure 2. They're reporting a mean and a confidence interval. These kinds of numbers seem absurdly specific, but really, it's the right way to report the results--I can pretty much guarantee you that if the authors had written "about 2600 years old," the editor at Journal of Archaological Science would have demanded a clarification, and rightly so.

      Looks like it's actually slightly younger than TFS says. "2684" does

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 17, 2012 @10:51AM (#41023777)
    Oh come on. Why not just say London.
  • We have a spare brain for the man's [wikipedia.org] empty head.
  • "Wed Apr 6, 2011 05:30 AM ET"
    I think it's nice that a pretty intact brain was discovered, but this news item is more than a year old.
  • by guttentag (313541) on Friday August 17, 2012 @12:24PM (#41024803) Journal
    I bet if you hook it up to a speaker and say, "Bring out your dead!" it will reply, "I'm not dead!"
  • "And we would all like to thank the fine fellow who broght us this find... a Mr. Igor.. what? that's his first name? Well find out his sirname, my good man!"
  • Damn, those Eymorgs have gotten around.

  • Egypt was a civilization with writing and everything at this point in history... Maybe if it was 10,000 years old...
  • Wunderbar! Let's study a hanged criminal's brain and attach all sorts of conjectural conclusions to the analysis!

  • There's a theory that ancient literature from about 3000 years ago points to humans having a different way of perceiving the world than they do today (Bicameral Mind). This is described in the following Wikipedia article ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicameralism_%28psychology%29 [wikipedia.org] ).

    >"For example, in the Iliad and sections of the Old Testament no mention is made of any kind of cognitive processes such as introspection, and there is no apparent indication that the writers were self-aware."

    While 2684 y

  • i think his name was abbie someone...

Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it. -- Perlis's Programming Proverb #58, SIGPLAN Notices, Sept. 1982

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