Scientists have found preserved brain cells from a young man who died during the infamous eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The structure of brain cells is still visible in a black glass-like substance found in his skull, the researchers said. Scientists have been trying to determine whether the glassy substance is part of the man’s brain, and the discovery of the cellular structure confirms that judgment.
As for how glass-like matter is produced, the researchers believe that the brain’s transition to glass texture is due to extreme heating and rapid cooling. The study’s lead author, Pier Paolo Petrone, said the results showed that the glassing process took place in Herculaneum and froze the neuron structure of the victim, preserving it intact to this day.
Herculaneum is an ancient town at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, which erupted nearly 2,000 years ago. The ancient city of Pompeii is the most famous victim of volcanic eruptions, but the hydrothermal currents that took most of the victims first hit Herculaneum, the huge, hot ash cloud was extremely hot, and materials such as flesh and wood were carbonized in an instant.
In rare cases, the preserved organic material appears to include the brain, the researchers said. The glass was found inside the man’s cracked and charred skull, believed to be in his 20s. He was found lying face down in bed.
Electron microscopes are used to observe the smallest details in the sample. The researchers found tiny spherical structures and long tectular structures that look like neurons and projections called axons. The structures are small, at 550 to 830 nanometers, and researchers say they are too small to be capillaries. These spherical structures also appear to retain the cell membrane and the silky or structural proteins inside the cell. The samples were also studied using energy dispersion X-ray spectroscopy. Using this technique, scientists discovered a protein called ATP6VIF, which is known to be involved in the transmission of chemicals called neurotransmitter.