London: The skull and brain of an Iron Age man - one of the oldest brains found in Europe - unearthed face-down during excavations indicate he was the victim of a gruesome ritual killing.
Scientists say that fractures and marks on the bones suggest the man, aged between 26 and 45, died most probably from hanging, after which he was carefully decapitated and his head was then buried on its own.
Archaeologists discovered the remains in 2008 in one of a series of Iron Age pits on the site at Heslington East - the University of York`s 750 million pound campus expansion.
Brain material was still in the skull which dates back around 2,500 years, the Journal of Archaeological Science reports.
Said Sonia O`Connor, research fellow in archaeological sciences at the University of Bradford, who led the team: "This is the most thorough investigation ever undertaken of a brain found in a buried skeleton and has allowed us to begin to really understand why brain can survive thousands of years after all the other soft tissues have decayed."
A multi-disciplinary team of scientists, including archaeologists, chemists, bio-archaeologists and neurologists, was assembled to attempt to establish how the man`s brain could have survived when all the other soft tissue had decayed, leaving only the bones behind.
The team is also investigating details of the man`s death and burial that may have contributed to the survival of what is normally highly vulnerable soft tissue, according to a York release.
Since the discovery, the brain and skull have been kept in strictly-controlled conditions, but scientists have examined samples using a range of sophisticated equipment, including a CT scanner at York Hospital and mass spectrometers at the University of York.