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Brain cells from 2,000 years ago found intact in skull of man who died in Vesuvius eruption

Brain cells of a young man who died 2,00 years ago during eruption of Mount Vesuvius were found intact by researches in Italy.

The discovery was made when experts studied remains first uncovered in the 1960s in Herculaneum, a city buried in ash during an eruption in AD 79.

The 25-year-old victim was found lying face downwards on a wooden building that was devoted to worship of Emperor Augustus.




Pier Paolo Petrone, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Naples Federico II who led the research, said the project started when he saw “some glassy material shining from within the skull” while he was working near the skeleton in 2018.

In the New England Journal of Medicine, 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.