Stone Age Skull May Contain Bits of Brain Matter

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A Stone Age skull with what may be bits of brain clinging to it has been unearthed at an ancient hunter-gatherer site in Norway.

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The skeletal fragment, which is about 8,000 years old, may have once belonged to an infant or a small child, though it is so packed into the soil that researchers still haven't been able to remove most of it, said Gaute Reitan, an archaeologist at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, Norway, who is excavating the site in conjunction with the University of Oslo.

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The piece of skull was unearthed along with an adult's skeleton. These bones may represent one of the oldest Stone Age skeletons, and skulls, ever unearthed in Scandinavia, Reitan said. [Mummy Melodrama: Top 9 Secrets of Otzi the Iceman]

While doing archaeological exploration last year prior to construction of a convention center in southwestern Oslo, local archaeologists found signs of an ancient settlement and passed the information along to Reitan and his colleagues, who did additional excavation.

Several pits contained microblades, or tiny pieces of flint that would have fit into slots in bone or wooden arrows, as well as stone axes and pieces of rock crystal — a smooth, clear glass that Mesolithic people placed in their arrowheads, Reitan said.

These pieces shaped by the Mesolithic people "look like the cleanest glass from a bottle of Coke," Reitan said.

Other pits revealed hearths with burnt bones, as well as postholes that would have supported the wooden beams of a simple hut.

The finds suggest that the site was once a semipermanent hunter-gatherer settlement.

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Though the ancient humans may have eaten deer and elk, they likely survived mostly on the water's bounty, guiding their log boats or canoes through the Oslo fjord to hunt for marine mammals and fish, Reitan said. "They were first and foremost fisherman," he added.

In late June while excavating the same site, the team uncovered a man-size pit, roughly the shape of a bathtub, with the sides lined with stones. The pit was so tightly packed with sandy soil that it felt like concrete, Reitan said.

The burial contained one mostly intact skeleton, possibly from an adult male.