Would you like a volcanic rock that's actually the exploded brain of an ancient Roman?
· Jul 27, 2021 · NottheBee.com

We live in a wacky world. One minute, you're milling about as a Roman citizen living around the the beautiful city of Pompeii. The a few millennia later, people are talking about your fossilized brain found in volcanic ash:

You read that correctly. A study published earlier this year determined that this rock from the famous eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. is actually the remains of a human brain.

In c.e. 79, a volcanic hot ash avalanche rapidly killed the inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculaneum. In the 1960s, at the Collegium Augustalium in Herculaneum, a human victim of the avalanche was found lying on a wooden bed, buried by volcanic ash (Fig. S1 in the Supplementary Appendix, available with the full text of this letter at NEJM.org). In this victim's skull, we discovered apparent brain remains that were vitrified instead of saponified.

For the nerdy out there, "vitrified" means turned into glass, versus "saponified," where things are melted into a fatty, soapy substance.

Although the man's fossilized body was found in the '60s, recent study of the volcanic rock in question showed proteins that are very common in the human brain.

Adipic and margaric fatty acids, components of human hair fat from sebum, were detected exclusively in the glassy fragments but not in the adjacent ash or in charcoal from the archaeological site. Fatty acids that are typical of human brain triglycerides were also found in the putative brain material. These substances are common to animals and plants; however, no evidence of plants or animals was found at the site from which the victim was recovered.

How hot was the fiery death that killed this man almost instantaneously?

Oh, just a cool 968ºF, or beyond the melting point of lead.


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