Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Scientists trace violent death of Iron Age man

Date:
March 28, 2011
Source:
University of York
Summary:
An Iron Age man whose skull and brain was unearthed during excavations at the University of York was the victim of a gruesome ritual killing, according to new research.

Scientists have examined samples of the skull of an Iron Age man using a range of sophisticated equipment including a CT scanner.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of York

An Iron Age man whose skull and brain was unearthed during excavations at the University of York was the victim of a gruesome ritual killing, according to new research.

Scientists say that fractures and marks on the bones suggest the man, who was aged between 26 and 45, died most probably from hanging, after which he was carefully decapitated and his head was then buried on its own.

Archaeologists discovered the remains in 2008 in one of a series of Iron Age pits on the site of the University's £750 million campus expansion at Heslington East. Brain material was still in the skull which dates back around 2500 years, making it one the oldest surviving brains in Europe.

A multi-disciplinary team of scientists, including archaeologists, chemists, bio-archaeologists and neurologists, was assembled to attempt to establish how the man's brain, could have survived when all the other soft tissue had decayed leaving only the bone.

The team is also investigating details of the man's death and burial that may have contributed to the survival of what is normally highly vulnerable soft tissue. The research, which was funded by the University of York and English Heritage, is published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Archaeologists from York Archaeological Trust, commissioned by the University to carry out the exploratory dig before building work on the campus expansion started, discovered the solitary skull face-down in the pit in dark brown organic rich, soft sandy clay.

Since the discovery, the brain and skull have been kept in strictly controlled conditions, but scientists have examined samples using a range of sophisticated equipment including a CT scanner at York Hospital and mass spectrometers at the University of York.

Samples of brain material had a DNA sequence that matched sequences found only in a few individuals from Tuscany and the Near East. Carbon dating suggests the remains date from between 673-482BC.

Peri-mortem fractures on the second neck vertebrae are consistent with a traumatic spondylolisthesis and a cluster of about nine horizontal fine cut-marks made by a thin-bladed instrument, such as a knife, are visible on the frontal aspect of the centrum.

Histological studies found remnants of brain tissue structures and highly sensitive neuroimmunological techniques, together with analyses, demonstrated the presence of a range of lipids and brain specific proteins in the remains.

The scientific team is now investigating how these lipids and proteins may have combined to form the persistent material of the surviving brain and what insight this may give on the circumstances between death, the burial environment and preservation of the Heslington brain.

The team is headed by Dr Sonia O'Connor, a Research Fellow in Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford and an Honorary Visiting Fellow at the University of York. It included scientists from the Departments of Archaeology, Biology and Chemistry at York, Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford, the Biocentre and the Department of Laboratory Medicine at Manchester University and the UCL Institute of Neurology in London.

Dr O'Connor said: "It is rare to be able to suggest the cause of death for skeletonised human remains of archaeological origin. The preservation of the brain in otherwise skeletonised remains is even more astonishing but not unique."

"This is the most thorough investigation ever undertaken of a brain found in a buried skeleton and has allowed us to begin to really understand why brain can survive thousands of years after all the other soft tissues have decayed.."

Despite the place that 'trophy heads' appear to have played in Iron Age societies and evidence for the preservation of human remains in the Bronze Age, the researchers say there is no evidence for that in this case. Analyses found no biomarkers indicating deliberate preservation by embalming or smoking.

Dr O'Connor added: "The hydrated state of the brain and the lack of evidence for putrefaction suggests that burial, in the fine-grained, anoxic sediments of the pit, occurred very rapidly after death. This is a distinctive and unusual sequence of events, and could be taken as an explanation for the exceptional brain preservation."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of York. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Sonia O'Connor, Esam Ali, Salim Al-Sabah, Danish Anwar, Ed Bergstrφm, Keri A. Brown, Jo Buckberry, Stephen Buckley, Matthew Collins, John Denton. Exceptional preservation of a prehistoric human brain from Heslington, Yorkshire, UK. Journal of Archaeological Science, 2011; DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2011.02.030

Cite This Page:

University of York. "Scientists trace violent death of Iron Age man." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 March 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110328101108.htm>.
University of York. (2011, March 28). Scientists trace violent death of Iron Age man. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 19, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110328101108.htm
University of York. "Scientists trace violent death of Iron Age man." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110328101108.htm (accessed September 19, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Friday, September 19, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Egypt Denies Claims Oldest Pyramid Damaged in Restoration

Egypt Denies Claims Oldest Pyramid Damaged in Restoration

AFP (Sep. 17, 2014) — Egypt's antiquities minister denied Tuesday claims that the Djoser pyramid, the country's first, had been damaged during restoration work by a company accused of being unqualified to do such work. Duration: 00:56 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
King Richard III's Painful Cause Of Death Revealed

King Richard III's Painful Cause Of Death Revealed

Newsy (Sep. 17, 2014) — King Richard III died in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and now researchers examining his skull think they know how. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

Researchers Explore Shipwrecks Off Calif. Coast

AP (Sep. 16, 2014) — Federal researchers are exploring more than a dozen underwater sites where they believe ships sank in the treacherous waters west of San Francisco in the decades following the Gold Rush. (Sept. 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Museum Traces Fragments of Star-Spangled Banner

Museum Traces Fragments of Star-Spangled Banner

AP (Sep. 12, 2014) — As the Star-Spangled Banner celebrates its bicentennial, Smithsonian curators are still uncovering fragments of the original flag that inspired Francis Scott Key's poem. (Sept. 12) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins