A heart of glass, sure. But a brain of glass?
Scientists assert in a new study that the intense heat from the infamous Mount Vesuvius eruption of 79 A.D. morphed one helpless victim’s gray matter into glass.
The study, published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine, claims fragments of a glassy, black material were extracted from a Herculaneum victim’s skull.
The horrific blast that decimated the Italian coastal cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii is believed to have killed more than 16,000 people, according to Geology.com.
Herculaneum was buried by pumice, mud and ash, entombing numerous residents.
But the male volcano victim, unearthed in the 1960s, had a black material in his cranial cavity that researchers believe is the vitrified remains of his brain.
The process of vitrification occurs when a substance is scorched at an extreme temperature before being rapidly cooled, turning the material into glaze or glass.
“The preservation of ancient brain remains is an extremely rare find,” explained forensic anthropologist Dr. Pier Paola Petrone. “This is the first-ever discovery of ancient human brain remains vitrified by heat.”
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The victim, believed to be a man in his 20s, was discovered on a wooden bed buried by volcanic ash, stated Petrone, who added he likely died instantaneously.
Detailed analyses of charred wood near the corpse showed a maximum temperature attained was a scorching 968º, according to the study.
During the eruption of Vesuvius, Herculaneum and Pompeii were buried by pyroclastic flows, which are quickly-moving currents of sizzling gases, rock fragments and ash.
This volcanic matter carbonized and preserved significant parts of the city, including the skeletons of residents unable to escape, according to BBC News.