A paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine announced the discovery of a rare archaeological find- the part of an exploded brain from the volcanic eruption of Italy’s Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, that looks like a shiny, black piece of rock.
Researchers are calling the find from the ruins of Herculaneum near Pompeii “sensational”. Herculaneum, named after the Greek god Hercules, was a popular resort town in Pompeii when Vesuvius erupted. The eruption left the city covered in 16 metre deep layers of molten lava.
When the lava solidified it also preserved the organic remains that were trapped underneath. The researchers were studying these remains when they found a glassy substance inside one of the victim’s skull.
“In October 2018, I was able to look at these remnants and I saw that something was shimmery in the shattered skull,” Pier Paolo Petrone, one of the researchers in the study says. Further analysis of the substance at CEINGE advanced biotech centre in Naples confirmed the presence of proteins and fatty acids from hair and brain tissue in it.
The researchers of the study think that the sudden increase in temperatures due to hot gases from the eruption must have caused body fat to ignite, vaporising the soft tissue. Though the mechanics are unclear, this phenomenon left the bodies there at that time vitrified.
“The high heat was literally able to burn the victim’s fat and body tissues, causing the brain to vitrify,” the archaeological site of Herculaneum said in a statement.
Researchers studying the archaeological site of Herculaneum have already uncovered family relationships between victims based on their DNA. As a next step, these researchers are proposing to reheat and liquefy the material to extract the individual’s DNA for further analysis.