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Iron age skull could help treat dementia

2,600 year old skull found in Heslington

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Image Credit: Mirek Schubert

A 2,600 YEAR OLD skull that was found in Heslington by archaeologists is now believed to have properties that could help treat neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers and dementia.

The skull, which is known to researchers as the ‘Heslington brain’ was found in 2008 by the York Archaeo-logical Trust at the Heslington Iron Age excavation site. The man’s skull was found in a waterlogged man-made ditch which may be why brain tissue still remained in unusually good condition.

It is clear the owner of the skull died after a blow to the head and decapitation with the jaw and two vertebrates still being attached. The process of being hit on the head produced an acidic fluid which leaked into the brain and helped preserve it.

It is believed to be one of the oldest skulls to be found in the UK, dating from 673-482 BC and consequently has attracted the attention of researchers as to how the brain has remained in such good condition.

Scientists spent a year studying the Heslington brain and found that, even after 2,600 years old, the brain still had many of the features of normal living brain tissue. Particular attention was paid to the proteins within the brain as the Heslington brain’s proteins were more tightly folded than usual and were still capable of producing antibodies.

Researchers noticed that the Heslington brain proteins took a full year to unfold. This is a significant discovery for researchers looking to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and dementia as these diseases involve a process of harmful protein folding

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