Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Experimental archaeology

I am intrigued by experimental archaeology, replicating past processes in an attempt to understand them. This includes trying to move large stones like those used at Stonehenge, recreating and using the tools of the past, repeating historic journeys, and building the inventions in Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks. I was an avid watcher of the PBS series "The 1900 House" (1999), "Frontier House" (2002), "Manor House" (2002), "Regency House Party" (2004), "Colonial House" (2004), and "Texas Ranch House" (2006). So my interest was sparked by the last line of this article: "To further investigate the phenomenon, researchers have buried pigs' heads in and around the pre-Roman site, to simulate what may have happened."

Here's what happened:
Sometime between 673 and 482 B.C., a man in what is now York, England, was hanged and then ritually decapitated. The severed head was buried without being deliberately preserved (for instance, by embalming or smoking). When the brain was excavated in 2008, it was reduced in volume due to loss of water but intact. This Iron Age brain is thus the oldest-known best-preserved brain in Britain.

Here's how
Burying the brain quickly in a pit full of thick, wet clay may have helped to forestall decomposition. The cool temperature of the soil may have slowed the actions of enzymes and the lack of oxygen may have reduced the actions of microbes. In addition, being buried apart from the body (which wasn't found) meant that the brain was not in contact with the digestive bacteria, which would normally cause the surrounding tissue to putrefy. But as University of York researcher Matthew Collins states, "Still, these theories don't fully explain why the brain didn't turn into mush. It's curious, because normally it is one of those organs that degrade quickly. There must be something going on internally that we don't understand."

That's where the pigs come in...

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