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Archaeologists Around The World Have Unearthed Over 4,000 Well-Preserved Brains Up To 12,000-Years-Old, And Now Scientists Are Using The Ancient Organs To Better Understand Alzheimer’s Disease

Gorodenkoff - stock.adobe.com - illustrative purposes only, not the actual people

A collection of ancient human brains may enable scientists to learn more about neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

To understand why and how brains can remain so well-preserved, a research team led by Alexandra Morton-Hayward, a forensic anthropologist and a doctoral candidate at the University of Oxford, is studying around 4,400 brains that were unearthed by archaeologists.

The brains came from 213 different places across the world, in every continent except for Antarctica. The oldest brains discovered were 12,000-years-old, and the most recent were from the 20th century. Documentation of the brains was found in records that date back as far as the 17th century.

The preservation of the soft brain tissues provides more valuable biological information for archaeologists than just the hard tissues of bone.

However, less than one percent of preserved brains have been analyzed. The latest studies can possibly offer more insight into human evolution and the neurodegenerative conditions that affect people today.

Usually, the brain is one of the first organs to break down after death, so its preservation is considered to be extremely rare. However, the newest research shows that this perception is inaccurate and that preserved brains were more common than originally thought.

The ancient brains were uncovered in peat bogs, shipwrecks, mountaintops, and desert tombs, all places that were ideal environments for preservation.

There were several factors that contributed to their preservation, including freezing, dehydration, saponification, and tanning. Saponification is a process in which fats are transformed into a substance known as “grave wax,” while tanning typically occurs in peat bogs.

Over 1,300 brains in the collection survived while other soft tissues decomposed, prompting the question of why this particular organ was able to remain intact throughout the years.

Gorodenkoff – stock.adobe.com – illustrative purposes only, not the actual people

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