An 8,000-year-old skull remnant was recently uncovered at an archeological site in Norway. While the skull could have belonged to a human child, this has not been confirmed. It may have come from an animal. Incredibly, researchers noticed gray, clay-like material within the skull, which they believe could be traces of preserved brain matter. If the skull does turn out to be human, this would be one of the oldest human brains ever recovered. Gaute Reitan, who led the dig team, discussed the preliminary findings with Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
While preliminary testing dated the skull back to about 5900 BCE, Reitan’s crew has called for help from paleoanthropologists in order to identify the species of the skull found at the Stokke site. The crew has been exploring the site for two months, working ahead of plans to build a convention center over the land. Information gathered here will help identify what life was like in Norway during this late portion of the Stone Age.
“It’s seldom enough that we get to dig in a camp from a portion of the Stone Age that we really don’t know much about,” Reitan told NRK. “But the fact that we’re uncovering a whole lot of things that are exceptional on a national basis, makes this very special.”
The crew has identified several bone fragments already, but needs help identifying what part of the body they are and from what species. Included in this collection are the oldest unburned bones ever discovered in Norway, which Reitan described as a “once in a career” discovery. Of course, the analysis of the skull and potential brain matter could make the find much more amazing. If brain matter has been preserved all this time, scientists will be able to learn a lot about what diseases may have been present in the area.
The current record-holder for oldest preserved brain is 4,000 years old and came from Western Turkey. Four burnt human skeletons were found buried in sediment, which was likely the result of tectonic activity. A fire likely spread throughout the area, draining the oxygen from around the bodies and boiling bodily fluids. This stopped the enzymes within the brain from breaking down the tissue, allowing it to be preserved.
Reitan’s team has a few more weeks to dig at the site before construction crews take over to build the convention center.
[Hat tip: io9]