Archeologists at Herculaneum, which is located just 11 miles away from the more famous site of Pompeii in Italy, found something really interesting recently. According to this article, when they looked inside one man’s skull, they found shiny bits of black glass. After further analysis, it was determined that this glass had once been brain matter.
It seems that the pyroclastic surge from Mount Vesuvius back in 79 A.D., which hit this man at hurricane speed, was about 970 degrees Fahrenheit. That is enough heat to vitrify a brain. You aren’t going to walk away from something like that. No, siree.
The article goes on to say that it’s very unusual to find brain matter in skeletal remains. On the rare occasion that it happens, the brain has usually undergone saponification. In other words, the fatty tissues have turned into soap over time. I don’t know which is worse, soap or glass.
I’m feeling rather humbled right now. When I think of what “me” consists of, I think of my mind. I imagine my mind residing inside my brain and looking out through my eyes. I consider my body to be the vehicle that totes my mind around, as if I’m sitting in a sedan chair of human flesh. To imagine that what makes me who I am could be reduced to glass or soap is rather a lot to digest.
I’ve long known that I take myself way too seriously. But the idea that all my ideas, thoughts, opinions, insights, and values, right along with all my hopes and dreams, might someday be reduced to soap or glass is certainly a wake up call. It makes me wonder if anything is truly significant, in the overall scheme of things. Does anything we do really matter?
Yes, yes, I know. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” I’ve reconciled myself with that. But somehow turning into soap or glass is different. It’s kind of insulting. It’s death on a different level. It really brings home the fact that our bodies are rendered inanimate.
As I try to wrap my brain (only figuratively at the moment) around this information, I’m going to make an extra effort not to think of what they plan to do with this poor man’s glassy brain. They believe that if they reheat it, it will liquify, and then they can extract his DNA to see who else he might be related to at this archeological dig.
So, mind to brain to glass to liquid to DNA to… Oh, my head hurts.
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