Published On: Fri, Jan 24th, 2020

Scientists blown away by ancient volcanic eruption that ‘turned victim’s brain to glass’ | World | News

Extreme heat from the Mount Vesuvius eruption in Italy was so immense it turned one victims brain into glass, scientists have suggested. The volcano erupted in 79 AD and ended in the death of thousands of inhabitants – as well as destroying countless Roman settlements near modern-day Naples.

Residents of the town, Herculaneum, were buried under a thick blanket of ash and volcanic matter, entombing people engaged in their daily lives.

More recently, a team of researchers studying the eruption and the remains of a victim discovered his remains as having turned to glass.

The victim in question was unearthed at the town in the 1960s.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday, said fragments of a glassy, black material were extracted from the victim’s skull.

Researchers say the discovery has left the study to conclude that the black material is the vitrified remains of the man’s brains.

Vitrification is the process whereby material is burned at a high heat and cooled rapidly, then turning the material into a glass-like substance.

Dr Pier Paolo Petrone, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Naples Federico II and lead author of the study, said: “The preservation of ancient brain remains is an extremely rare find.

“This is the first ever discovery of ancient human brain remains vitrified by heat.”

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Charred wood found near the body showed that a temperature of 520C (968F) scalded the area.

This suggests “extreme radiant heat was able to reignite body fat and vaporise soft tissues”, before a “rapid drop in temperature”, the report says.

It adds: “The detection of glassy material from the victim’s head, of proteins expressed in human brain, and of fatty acids found in human hair indicates the thermally induced preservation of vitrified human brain tissue.”

More interestingly, the glassy material was not found in other locations of the archaeological site.

Scientists say the find is remarkable since brain tissue is rarely preserved due to decomposition, which usually turns remains into a soap.

Like many of the areas inhabitants, the caretaker was killed instantly, when deadly currents of superheated gases, ash and rock fragments, known as pyroclastic flows, swept through the town.

His other remains suggest that other parts of his skull and bones exploded and became charred instantly.

Various other parts of the man’s body, however, showed signs of having gone through vitrification, also layered in the glass.

Also found around the chest bones was a solid, spongy mass, likely formed from the lungs and other organs, according to the study.

The team say the findings reflect accounts of the victims of the Dresden bombings during the second world war.

Here, bodies were reduced to a mixture of bones and a jelly-like substance when exposed to intense heat.

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