The ancient city of Pompeii is famous for housing over a thousand striking and unsettling figures of people frozen in time, preserved in ash for 2,000 years after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Now, archaeologists excavating a new site have uncovered a new victim of the disaster, who has quite a story to tell. The skeleton was found with its head crushed beneath a huge stone block that was thrown by the force of the volcanic cloud.
It's believed that Mt. Vesuvius erupted in the year 79 AD, destroying Pompeii and other nearby cities with pyroclastic flows. These clouds of gas and dust are extremely hot and fast-moving, and quickly buried the city in a thick layer of ash, flash-preserving daily life – including Pompeii's unluckiest residents – in exceptional detail at the moment disaster struck.
The newly-discovered victim suffered a different fate, albeit one that was just as tragic. During the excavation, anthropologists identified the skeleton as that of an adult male, over 30 years old at the time of death. Based on the body's location and condition, archaeologists pieced together the story of the man's last moments. It looks like he survived the first eruptive phase of the volcano, which buried so many others, but his luck finally ran out as he tried to escape the city.
He was found in an alley, amazingly at the height of the first floor of the nearby building – meaning there was already several feet of ash and debris piled up beneath him as he tried to flee. Unfortunately, it seems he was caught up in another pyroclastic flow, which propelled both him and a heavy stone block through the air, which the researchers think might have come from a door jamb. This block crushed his upper chest and presumably his head, which hasn't technically been found, but there's no prize for guessing where it probably is.
Adding further tragedy to the story, examination of the skeleton revealed lesions on his tibia, indicating he was suffering from a bone infection. This probably would have caused him a lot of pain and maybe given him a limp, which wouldn't have helped his escape efforts.
"This exceptional find reminds us of an analogous case, that of a skeleton discovered by Amedeo Maiuri in the House of the Smith, and which was recently studied," says Massimo Osanna, an archaeologist on the exacavation project. "These were the remains of a limping individual – he too was likely impeded in his escape by motor difficulties, and left exposed at the time in situ.
"Beyond the emotional impact of these discoveries, the ability to compare them in terms of their pathologies and lifestyles as well as the dynamics of their escape from the eruption, but above all to investigate them with ever more specific instruments and professionalism present in the field, contribute toward an increasingly accurate picture of the history and civilisation of the age, which is the basis of archaeological research."
The skeleton was found during excavations of a previously-unexplored part of the city, known as Regio V.
Source: Pompeii Archaeological Park
Want a cleaner, faster loading and ad free reading experience?
Try New Atlas Plus. Learn more