Remains of World’s Oldest Human Brain Found in Armenia

YERVAN – An Armenian-American-Irish archeological expedition claims to have found the remains of the world’s oldest human brain, estimated to be over 5,000 years old.

The discovery was made recently in a cave in southeastern Armenia.

An analysis performed by the Keck Carbon Cycle Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory at the University of California, Irvine confirmed that one of three human skulls found at the site contains particles of a human brain dating to around the first quarter of the 4th millennium BC.

“The preliminary results of the laboratory analysis prove this is the oldest of the human brains so far discovered in the world,” said Dr. Boris Gasparian, one of the excavation’s leaders and an archeologist from the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology in Yerevan.

“Of course, the mummies of Pharaonic Egypt did contain brains, but this one is older than the Egyptian ones by about 1,000 to 1,200 years,” he added.

The team in Armenia, comprised of 26 specialists from Ireland, the United States and Armenia, had been excavating the three-chamber cave where the brain was found since 2007.

The site, overlooking the Arpa River near the town of Areni, is believed to date mostly to the Late Chalcolithic Period or the Early Bronze Age (around 6,000 to 5,000 years ago).

It also contains evidence of elaborate burial rituals and agricultural practices.

The skull with the brain was found in a chamber that contained three buried ceramic vessels containing the skulls of three women, about 11 to 16 years old.

The cave’s damp climate helped preserve red and white blood cells in the brain remains.

“It is a unique first-hand source of information about the genetic code of the people who inhabited this place, and we’re now studying it,” Gasparian said in reference to the nine-centimeter-long, seven-centimeter-high brain fragment.

It is still being determined from what part of the brain the fragment comes.

“Microscopic analysis revealed blood vessels and traces of a brain hemorrhage, perhaps caused by a blow to the head,” Gasparian said.

Next to one of the three skulls, the team also found four adult femoral shafts – midsections of a thigh bone – that may have also played a role in the ritual.

“Interestingly, some of them were not just burnt, but rather evenly roasted from all sides, which directly points to a ceremonial practice. This may have been a case of ceremonial cannibalism, but it still needs to be proved,” said Gasparian.

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