The Oldest Human Brain – Areni Cave, Armenia

The Oldest Human Brain – Areni Cave, ArmeniaThe oldest known human brain was found in Armenia. The unique find was discovered by Armenian archaeologists during excavations in the cave Areni-1 or, as it is also called, the “Bird Cave” in the southwest Armenia.

It is a perfectly preserved human brain, perhaps the most ancient one ever found. According to the preliminary visual assessment, it is around 6 thousand years old!

A piece of a brain (biological material measuring 10 cm) was discovered in the summer of 2008. Scientists have started to talk about the sensational results only recently, apparently, previously fearing wrong interpretations of the news.

Both foreign and Armenian scientists have deeply discussed this unique find. According to the head of the Areni Archeological Expedition and a researcher of the Boris Gasparyan Institute of Archeology, the most amazing thing about the three skulls of approximately 11-16 years old girls is that they are in perfect condition.

The fairly desiccated piece of a brain still contained blood vessels. Organic samples were sent to a biometric laboratory in California. But so far, no news from the United States. According to Gasparyan, such analyses require a long time, sometimes even several years. So one should not expect quick conclusions from the scientists. Meanwhile, it turned out that the brain is so well preserved that there is hope for the restoration of the DNA of the girls.

Gasparyan and foreign colleagues assume that the girls were killed with hits. The reason of that act is currently unknown. It is possible that the teens occupied a special position in their society and were sacrificed. After all, the very method of burial of the murdered is rather unusual – the skulls were immured in clay vessels.

Gasparyan assumes that either the heads were cut off from the very beginning and placed in pitchers or it has been a case of the so-called secondary burial. Simply put, the “killers” of the young maidens waited for the corpses to rot completely to then place their skulls in the vessels. But according to forensic studies, the girls were beheaded before the decomposition of the corpses.

One way or another, the girls clearly occupied a high position in their society. The extraordinary status of young maidens is also indicated by the items discovered in the cave – a large number of vessels, metal products, 40 kinds of seeds of various plants, grasses, clothing, and dried prunes.

Apparently, the girls were adding a kind of an “attribute” to sacrifices. As women have been considered a symbol of fertility, ancient people probably expected to get rich harvest after such rituals. It appears that young age of the girls was not taken into account in this case.

The age of 11-16 years and the gender of the individuals are only an estimation. The exact age and sex can only be announced after anthropological research, which is rather resource-intensive. Besides, there is no such professionals in Armenia. But conducting more deep studies is extremely necessary as, after all, the finds can turn into dust at any moment. As specialized refrigerators cost a ton of money, the “artifacts” are kept in the Institute of Archeology in the office of the project manager himself.


The conditions inside the cave (low humidity and constant temperature) have been perfect for the preservation of the remains. Now, an office surely won’t be the same in the regard of conservation of the skulls. According to Gasparyan, there have already been cases of artifacts turning into dust. Scientists don’t know how much more they will endure. But one thing is clear – it is unacceptable to abandon both the skulls and the cave.

Excavations are still carried out in Areni-1. During the latest works, archaeologists discovered a huge number of vessels of amazing beauty. According to Gasparyan, some of them were made with clay coated in ochre.

Today, the head of the expedition is thinking about creating a whole museum dedicated to Areni-1. But that’s not currently possible as the Institute is financed by the state exclusively. Despite the fact that the financing of the archaeological field has been significantly increased in recent years, many more resources are necessary for achieving optimal results and, most importantly, the preservation of the artifacts.

“Such archaeological finds are the property of the Republic of Armenia and not only attract the attention of tourists and guests of the republic but also significantly enhance its prestige,” Gasparyan says.

“Discovery of relics with either cultural, social, or biological features is extremely rare. As for the discovery of such funerary urns, they are completely sensational. I can only recall two publications in regard to similar precedents that took place in Israel and Turkey.”

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