Some really hot heads …

I found an interesting article about some hot heads lately, and amazingly, the story had nothing to do with partisan sniping in Washington.

The hot heads in question are 4,000-year-old skulls, containing surprisingly intact brains.

Image of a 4,000-year-old brain, from Halic University, IstanbulThe finds, from four skeletons, were excavated between 2006 and 2011 at a Bronze Age site called Seyitömer Höyük, in western Turkey. The site is neither frigid nor arid — conditions that sometimes contribute to natural mummification of human tissue by fast freezing or drying — so there was initial wonderment about what could have led to the brains’ surprising state of preservation.

Analysts studying the find noted that the skeletons were found in a layer containing charred bits of wood, and theorized that the earthquake-prone region must have experienced a temblor that buried the victims alive, with the remains of cooking fires sparking a blaze that burned fallen debris and other materials, including the buried bodies. The heat would have caused the brains to boil in their own cerebrospinal fluid. With raging fires sucking up both oxygen and moisture, the remaining tissue was less prone to breaking down quickly. 

Over the ensuing years, analysts said, minerals from the surrounding soil — rich in potassium, magnesium and aluminum — could have leached into the skull, reacting with fatty acids in the tissue to form something called adipocere, or “corpse wax” (did you know there was such a thing?). The waxy, soap-like substance would have contributed to the brain retaining its shape.

When I think of cooked brains, I generally get a mental image of pink and yellow on a plate, an old southern delicacy of pork brains and eggs scrambled together on the winter day chosen for our annual “hog killin’.” And it’s not bad, provided the ingredients are fresh, but it’s nothing compared to these ancient anatomical anomalies.

Who knows what scientists might learn from amazingly preserved Bronze Age brains? What tales might the overheated hemispheres tell us? What secrets lie hidden in a sauteed cerebrum’s cooked cortex?

If preserving form over function suits your style, forget expensive cryonics: a quick death and a hot head might be the way to go.

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