Unusual-ology: 4,000-year-old Human Brain Discovered.

A ‘petrified’ 4,000-year-old brain has been discovered in the Bronze Age settlement of Seyitömer Höyük, Turkey. The brain was excavated inside a skull that was uncovered in an ancient burial ground.  But how did the brain become ‘petrified’ and well-preserved?


The ‘petrified’ brain found within a skull at the Bronze Age settlement of Seyitömer Höyük, Turkey. © Halic University Istanbul.

Meriç Altinoz, from the Haliç University in Istanbul, has theorised that due to how tectonically active the site is, an earthquake devastated the Bronze Age site. This earthquake would have flattened the settlement, burying everyone and starting a fire. The ancient burial ground shows evidence of the theorised fire due to the presence of charred skeletal remains and burnt wooden artefacts. This fire played a vital key in the preservation of the brain.  Due to the fire consuming a lot of the trapped oxygen within the rubble, the brain would have boiled in its own fluid. This boiling would have burned off the brain’s moisture preventing normal tissue decomposition.

But there is thought to be another factor to how it became so well preserved. The tissue of the brain was found to be full of magnesium, potassium and aluminium. These elements, when mixed with the fatty acids that are present in human tissue, make up adipocere, which effectively preserved the shape of the brain tissue.

This recent discovery of the oldest well-preserved brain tissue has opened up many new areas of study. Frank Rühli, of the Univerisity of Zurich in Switzerland, has noted that ‘the level of preservation in combination with the age is remarkable’ and in such cases could help understand ‘the history of neurological disorders’.


Altinoz, M. A., Ince, B. Sav, A., Dincer, A., Cengiz, S., Mercan, S., Yazici, Z., Bilgen. M.N. 2013. Human Brains Found In A Fire-Affected 4000-years Old Bronze Age Tumulus Layer Rich In Soil Alkalines and Boron in Kutahya, Western Anatolia. HOMO – Journal of Comparative Human Biology, 64. Available from here.

Barras, C. 2013. Human brain boiled in its skull lasted 4000 years. New Scientist. 2937, page 11. Available from here. 

Fossum, M. 2013. 4,000 Year Old Preserved Human Brain Found in Turkey. Web Pro News.

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Unusual-ology: Ancient Greek and Roman “Entrance to Hell” discovered.

Unusual-ology is a new post type which focuses on weird new articles/science areas that have cropped up and caught my eye.

Italian archaeologists from the University of Salento, led by Francesco D’Andria, working at a Greco-Roman site of ancient have discovered the ‘Entrance to Hell’.

ImageHieropolis, known today as Pamukkale, Turkey – where the “Entrance of Hell” has been located.

This ‘Entrance to Hell’ has been discovered in Hierapolis, known today as Pamukkale, in Turkey.  Francessco and the fellow archaeologists were able to stumble upon the entrance of the temple by tracing the path of the hot springs through the ancient site. The temple, identified as the Ploutonion, has been linked to Hades and correctly identified due to an ‘engraved dedication’ to Pluto above the gate. The temple was built over a cave and underground in the thermally active area. Ploutonion was the worship ground for many ancient pilgrims who would travel to celebrate their gods and bathe within the hot springs that surround the area.

The reason why the Ploutonion has been called the ‘Entrance to Hell’ is due to the writings of the Greek geographer Strabo. Strabo mentions about the “opening of sufficient size to admit a man, but there is a descent to a great depth… The space is filled with a cloudy and dark vapour, so dense that the bottom can be scarcely be discerned.” These documents explain that the cloudy, dark vapour has caused many animals that enter to die instantly. Strabo wrote that Bulls which had entered the Ploutonion “fell down and were taken out dead” and sparrows which were thrown inside “immediately fell down lifeless.” The Ploutonion’s poisonous vapour still survives today as many dead birds have been found on this site during modern excavations. The presence of the dead birds has helped convince the archaeological team that this is in fact Ploutonion’s true ‘entrance to hell’.

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Biblical Archaeology Society. 2013. Hierapolis and the Gateway to Hell. Bible History Daily News. Click here for the article, and to read more of Strabo’s writing on the Ploutonion.

Daily Mail. 2013. Is this the Gate of Hell? Archaeologists say temple doorway belching noxious gas matches ancient accounts of ‘portal to the underworld’. Daily Mail News. Click here for the article.

National Geographic. 2013. Archaeologists Find a Classic Entrance to Hell. National Geographic Daily News. Click here for the article.