Extreme Heat Of Mount Vesuvius Eruption ‘Turned Man’s Brain To Glass’

by : Julia Banim on : 24 Jan 2020 17:22
Glass BrainGlass BrainThe New England Journal of Medicine

Scientists have reported the brain of a man killed during the Mount Vesuvius eruption in the year 79 burned at such an incredibly high temperature that it was transformed into glass.


A research team studying the remains of one victim – unearthed in the town of Herculaneum in the 1960s – found a black fragments of a glassy material inside the skull. This material was not found anywhere else at the site and is thought to have scientific significance.

It’s believed this material is the vitrified remains of the victims’s brain. Vitrification is the process whereby material burns at a very high heat before cooling quickly, resulting in it being transformed into glass or a glaze.

Mount VesuviusMount VesuviusPA

According to the study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the victim is believed to have been a young man in his mid 20s, who might have been the custodian of the Collegium Augustalium, a place of worship.


The man – who was found ‘lying on a wooden bed, buried by volcanic ash’ – was most likely killed instantly by the eruption, with analysis of charred wood found close to the body showing a maximum temperature of 520C was reached.

According to this study, this would suggest ‘extreme radiant heat was able to ignite body fat and vaporise soft tissues’, prior to a ‘rapid drop in temperature’. Further analysis confirmed the material contained proteins and fatty acids from hair and brain tissue.

Researchers believe this to be the very first time in scientific history this phenomenon has been verified following a volcanic eruption. Archaeologists are rarely able to recover human brain tissue, and when they do it’s usually said to be ‘smooth and soapy’.

Mount VesuviusMount VesuviusPA

The Mount Vesuvius eruption killed the inhabitants of Pompeii and the neighbouring town of Herculaneum, leaving over 1,000 people dead. Herculaneum is located closer to Vesuvius than Pompeii, and was buried buried beneath pyroclastic flows, fast-moving currents of rock fragments, ash and hot gases.

Lead author Dr Pier Paola Petrone – a forensic anthropologist at the University of Naples Federico II – said:

The preservation of ancient brain remains is an extremely rare find. This is the first ever discovery of ancient human brain remains vitrified by heat.

Going forward, the research team believe these remains could be compared to victims of more recent historic events, including those uncovered after the firebombing of Dresden and Hamburg during World War II.


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Julia Banim

Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.

Topics: Science, Brain Vitrification, Glass, Naples, Roman, Vesuvius Eruption


The New England Journal Of Medicine
  1. The New England Journal Of Medicine

    Heat-Induced Brain Vitrification from the Vesuvius Eruption in c.e. 79