In 2008, a team of scientists pulled out a 2600-year-old skull from a pit in York in the UK. Like most other excavated skulls, no one expected to find a brain still inside, until team member Rachel Cubitt noticed that there was something more than mud inside the skull. As she spotted ancient brain tissue inside the skull, a possibility of an intriguing discovery was opened to a neurologist!
The York University first discovered the Iron Age skull while excavating the site at Heslington East. According to them, the skull belonged to a man who received nearly seven blows to the neck until his head detached.
The Tale of Serendipity
Dr. Axel Petzold started the morning after a Christmas party with a cup of coffee while listening to the news on the radio about the recent discovery of the skull with its brain intact. When the radio presenter pondered on how the brain survived the tide of time so well, Dr. Petzold immediately started to think about it. As an NHS neurologist from University College London’s Queen Square Institute of Neurology, he was well aware of the rareness of the discovery. His Ph.D. subject was neurofilaments, a type of protein that contributes to the stability of our brain. So, it took him almost no time to assume that this brain protein could be the very cause behind this rare survival of the organ, which, otherwise, has a consistency of cream cheese.
Dr. Petzold took the effort to connect with the head of the research team working on the brain, Dr. Sonia O’Connor. Dr. Petzold was allowed to take a sample from the ancient brain, and through tests and observations, he and his team finally were able to find evidence of structural neurofilaments in the ancient neural tissue, confirming his theory. The astonishing discovery opens the doors to possibilities never imagined before.