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In a cave overlooking southeastern Armenia’s Arpa River, just across the border from Iran, scientists have uncovered what may be the oldest preserved human brain from an ancient society. The cave also offers surprising new insights into the origins of modern civilizations, such as evidence of a winemaking enterprise and an array of culturally diverse pottery.
Excavations in and just outside of Areni-1 cave during 2007 and 2008 yielded an extensive array of Copper Age artifacts dating to between 6,200 and 5,900 years ago, reported Gregory Areshian of the University of California, Los Angeles, January 11 at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. In eastern Europe and the Near East, an area that encompasses much of southwest Asia, the Copper Age ran from approximately 6,500 to 5,500 years ago.
Researchers also found a trio of Copper Age human skulls, each buried in a separate niche inside the three-chambered, 600-square–meter cave. The skulls belonged to 12- to 14-year-old girls, according to anatomical analyses conducted independently by three biological anthropologists. Fractures identified on two skulls indicate that the girls were killed by blows from a club of some sort, probably in a ritual ceremony, Areshian suggested. Remarkably, one skull contained a shriveled but well-preserved brain. “This is the oldest known human brain from the Old World,” Areshian said. The Old World comprises Europe, Asia, Africa and surrounding islands.