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A Forensic Case Study of a Naturally Mummified Brain from the Bushveld of South Africa

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The present study reports our observations of a naturally mummified human brain found in the bushveld of South Africa. This case extends the geographic and climatic ranges in which mummified brains have been found, and it represents an additional case where no human activity has led to the mummification. The mummified brain was c. one fifth the size of a normal human brain, while the gyral and sulcal patterns of a typical human brain were clear. CT scanning of the brain revealed that subcortical structures, normally evident in this type of imaging, were not discernable, indicating a slow mummification process. Histological examination of the tissue revealed near complete degradation of the microanatomical structure, with only putative Nissl bodies remaining as identifiable neural microstructures. The specimen appears to have survived several veld fires, as well as a high annual rainfall, and a high relative humidity. It is thought that specific conditions amenable to brain mummification, but not other soft tissues, occurred in the skull of this specimen in the weeks postmortem.

Keywords: archaeology; cerebral cortex; forensic science; human; mummification; neuroanatomy

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Anatomical Sciences, Medical School North, The University of Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia.

Publication date: May 1, 2006

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