The 4000-year-old brain tissue found in Seyitömer Höyük, Turkey.

Bronze Age Brain: 4000-Year-Old Human Cerebral Tissue Preserved by ‘Corpse Wax’


Tissue from a human Bronze Age brain has been preserved for 4000 years. Archaeologists hope that similar specimens can be found to discover more information on health conditions in the prehistoric past.

The Bronze age brain discovered in Seyitömer Höyük, Turkey is one of the oldest in the world. Having access to the preserved brain allows scientists to find out about any diseases or pathological conditions the individual may have had, such as tumors or hemorrhaging, and also discover what happened in the person’s last hours of life.

The Bronze Age brain tissue was found at Seyitömer Höyük, Turkey.

The Bronze Age brain tissue was found at Seyitömer Höyük, Turkey. (Open Context)

There are few brains that have been preserved as long as this one because brain tissue is rich in enzymes and cells break down rapidly after death. In rare cases, decomposition is slowed. For example, brain tissue of an Inca child sacrificed 500 years ago has also been found in a preserved state. The survival of the tissue in that case was due to her body having been frozen on top of an Andean mountain.

The brain unearthed in Turkey likely survived the years due to natural disasters. It is believed that the settlement suffered an earthquake which buried the inhabitants. Then a fire spread, consuming any oxygen in the rubble and boiling the brain in its fluid. A decrease in moisture and oxygen following these events would have further prevented the decomposition of the brain tissue.

Superior view of fronto-temporal structures of the brain.

Superior view of fronto-temporal structures of the brain. (classicsnewsneedsandnow)

Moreover, the soil where the brain was found was high in potassium, magnesium, and aluminum. This triggered the human tissue to create a substance called adipocere, or ‘corpse wax’, which preserves soft tissue.

Frank Rühli of the University of Zurich, Switzerland, has examined medieval brain tissue and said most archaeologists don’t look for it as they doubt it will survive the passing years. Nonetheless, “The level of preservation in combination with the age is remarkable. If you publish cases like this, people will be more and more aware that they could find original brain tissue too.”

Heslington Brain, discovered to be more than 2,500 years old.

Heslington Brain, discovered to be more than 2,500 years old. (York Archaeological Trust)

Top Image: The 4000-year-old brain tissue found in Seyitömer Höyük, Turkey. (UC San Diego Health)

By April Holloway

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article