2,000-year-old brain cells of Vesuvius victim found intact
Published: 11:54 7 October 2020 Updated: 15:56 7 October 2020
2,000-years-old brain cells of a young man who died in Mount Vesuvius eruption have been found intact
A team of researchers in Italy found intact brain cells of a young man who died almost 2,000 years ago in the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.
The body of the man, believed to be about 20/25 years old at the time of his death, was found in the 1960s in Herculaneum, a city buried by ash during the volcanic eruption.
The researchers thought that the young man, who was found lying face-down on a wooden bed in a building, have been devoted to the worship of Emperor Augustus.
Pier Paolo Petrone, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Naples Federico II who led the research, told CNN that the project started when he saw "some glassy material shining from within the skull" while he was working near the skeleton in 2018.
In a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year, Petrone and his colleagues revealed that this shiny appearance was caused by the vitrification of the victim's brain due to intense heat followed by rapid cooling.
Speaking about this process, Petrone said: "The brain exposed to the hot volcanic ash must first have liquefied and then immediately turned into a glassy material by the rapid cooling of the volcanic ash deposit."
After subsequent analysis including the use of an electron microscope, the team found cells in the vitrified brain, which were "incredibly well preserved with a resolution that is impossible to find anywhere else," according to Petrone.
The researchers also found intact nerve cells in the spinal cord, which, like the brain, had been vitrified.
The latest findings were published in the American journal PLOS One.
Charred wood found next to the skeleton allowed the researchers to conclude that the site reached a temperature of more than 500 degrees Celsius (932 degrees Fahrenheit) after the eruption, Guido Giordano, a volcanologist at Roma Tre University who worked on the study, told CNN.
Referring to the latest findings, Giordano said the "perfectness of preservation" found in vitrification was "totally unprecedented" and was a boon to researchers.
"This opens up the room for studies of these ancient people that have never been possible," he said. - CNN, USA Today
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