Weird World

Dozens of naturally preserved brains found in Spanish Civil War-era mass grave

Almost 50 per cent of individuals from the Spanish 1936 mass grave had their brains preserved.

MADRID — Archaeologists, while excavating a mass grave from Spain’s 1936 to 1939 Civil War, have found the naturally preserved brains of 45 people — eight decades after they were shot and buried on a hillside in the northern province of Burgos,a scientist says.

Spain has hundreds of mass graves from the war era and from ensuing decades of dictatorship under General Francisco Franco. Very few have been dug up due to a lack of funding and Spain’s “pact of forgetting” on its return to democracy in the 1970s.

The findings, which were published in the Science and Justice journal of the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences, showed almost 50 per cent of individuals from the Spanish 1936 mass grave had their brains preserved.

Forensic scientist Fernando Serrulla says the shrivelled, brown brains — some with the ridges still showing — are an rare find.

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“Naturally preserved brains are very rare,” Serrulla said. “There are only around 100 documented cases in the world.”

The brains from some of the bodies in the La Pedraja grave were preserved by very specific environmental conditions after heavy rains seeped into bullet holes in their skulls.

A preserved heart has also been unearthed, an unprecedented finding, says forensic scientist Fernando Serrulla who worked on the dig and has published a study with details of the discovery.

The brains are being kept in a laboratory in Galicia, northwestern Spain, where Serrulla works. Shrivelled, brown and with the ridges still showing, they form the largest collection of naturally preserved human brains in the world, he says.