Scientists find intact brain cells in skull of man killed in Vesuvius eruption nearly 2,000 years ago

A section of vitrified brain tissue from the remains of a young man who died in AD 79 after Mount Vesuvius erupted.

(CNN)The brain cells of a young man who died almost 2,000 years ago in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius have been found intact by a team of researchers in Italy.

The discovery was made when the experts studied remains first uncovered in the 1960s in Herculaneum, a city buried by ash during the volcanic eruption in AD 79.
The victim, who was found lying face-down on a wooden bed in a building thought to have been devoted to the worship of the Emperor Augustus, was around 25 years old at the time of his death, according to the researchers.
    Part of the college of the Augustales, the building in Herculaneum where the young man's remains were found in the 1960s.
    Pier Paolo Petrone, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Naples Federico II who led the research, told CNN that the project started when he saw "some glassy material shining from within the skull" while he was working near the skeleton in 2018.
    In a paper published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine, Petrone and his colleagues revealed that this shiny appearance was caused by the vitrification of the victim's brain due to intense heat followed by rapid cooling.
    Speaking about this process, Petrone said: "The brain exposed to the hot volcanic ash must first have liquefied and then immediately turned into a glassy material by the rapid cooling of the volcanic ash deposit."
    After subsequent analysis including the use of an electron microscope, the team found cells in the vitrified brain, which were "incredibly well preserved with a resolution that is impossible to find anywhere else," according to Petrone.
    The researchers also found intact nerve cells in the spinal cord, which, like the brain, had been vitrified.
    The latest findings were published in the American journal PLOS One.