The oldest goat's brain in Denmark

Goat's scull and brain

The goat's skull (left) and the goat's brain (right) ca. 3500 BC


One of the excavations' very special finds is an almost complete goat's skull, in which quite exceptionally a significant part of the animal's brain is still preserved. Jacob Kveiborg, Zoologist at Moesgaard Museum, has examined the skull and in that connection observed several horizontally orientated cut traces by the neck, which indicate that this was a cut up animal where the head had been separated from the body. However, the zoologist also finds the preserved part of the brain highly interesting. A brain consists almost exclusively of easily degradable fats and therefore constitutes a very rare find type at archaeological excavations.


The fact that the goat's brain from Syltholm immediately after its exposure and despite severe shrinkage still to a certain extent had a slightly grooved surface, characteristic of the cerebral cortex, shows that straight after the dismembering, the animal was deposited in a low-oxygen and calm environment, something that could be found in this area.


The underside of the goat's skull


The underside of the goat's skull


Lived among Denmark's first farmers

Closer inspection has revealed that what we have here is Denmark's oldest goat's brain. Skulls from earlier times are known, but without brains, and that makes this find unique. Radiocarbon examinations of the goat's brain have dated it to around 3500 BC +/- 100 years. More precisely, the goat lived between 3631 BC and 3373 BC. The dating places the skull in the absolute earliest part of the Neolithic Age, where the arrival of goats and sheep as well as the domestication of aurochs and wild boars contributed to defining the beginning of agriculture.


Archaeological surveys show that the population in Denmark started tilling the ground and keeping livestock during the first centuries of the 4th millennium BC, i.e. at the beginning of the Neolithic Age (ca. 3900 BC - 1700 BC). The find of the goat's brain shows that this region was inhabited by some of these first farmers. Traces show that they both cultivated the land and kept livestock.


Animal bones

Different animal bones found during the preliminary surveys