Science

Pompeii skeleton found crushed under stone block while fleeing volcanic eruption

Archaeologists have uncovered the 2,000-year-old skeleton of a man crushed beneath a huge stone block, while trying to flee the volcanic eruption that wiped out Pompeii
Archaeologists have uncovered the 2,000-year-old skeleton of a man crushed beneath a huge stone block, while trying to flee the volcanic eruption that wiped out Pompeii
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Archaeologist Massimo Osanna with the newly-discovered skeleton
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Archaeologist Massimo Osanna with the newly-discovered skeleton
Lesions were found on the tibia, indicating the man was suffering from a bone infection
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Lesions were found on the tibia, indicating the man was suffering from a bone infection
Anthropologists have identified the skeleton as that of a man over 30 years old
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Anthropologists have identified the skeleton as that of a man over 30 years old
The newly-discovered skeleton has quite a story to tell
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The newly-discovered skeleton has quite a story to tell
The skeleton was discovered during excavations of a previously-unexplored part of the city of Pompeii, known as Regio V
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The skeleton was discovered during excavations of a previously-unexplored part of the city of Pompeii, known as Regio V
The city of Pompeii was preserved in exceptional detail by clouds of dust and ash from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD
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The city of Pompeii was preserved in exceptional detail by clouds of dust and ash from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD
Archaeologists have uncovered the 2,000-year-old skeleton of a man crushed beneath a huge stone block, while trying to flee the volcanic eruption that wiped out Pompeii
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Archaeologists have uncovered the 2,000-year-old skeleton of a man crushed beneath a huge stone block, while trying to flee the volcanic eruption that wiped out Pompeii
Pyroclastic flows from Mt. Vesuvius flash-preserved daily life in the city of Pompeii at the moment disaster struck
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Pyroclastic flows from Mt. Vesuvius flash-preserved daily life in the city of Pompeii at the moment disaster struck
Anthropologists believe the man had a limp caused by a bone infection, which may have impeded his escape efforts
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Anthropologists believe the man had a limp caused by a bone infection, which may have impeded his escape efforts
Archaeologists were able to piece together the final moments of the man
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Archaeologists were able to piece together the final moments of the man
Pyroclastic flows are huge clouds of dust and gas that are extremely fast-moving and superheated
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Pyroclastic flows are huge clouds of dust and gas that are extremely fast-moving and superheated
The body was found at the height of the first floor of a building, indicating a considerable amount of ash had already fallen on the city
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The body was found at the height of the first floor of a building, indicating a considerable amount of ash had already fallen on the city
Finds like these are giving researchers an unprecedented look at ancient life
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Finds like these are giving researchers an unprecedented look at ancient life
The man survived the initial blast from the volcano, which killed many of Pompeii's residents, but met a different fate not long after
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The man survived the initial blast from the volcano, which killed many of Pompeii's residents, but met a different fate not long after
While the man's skull technically hasn't been discovered yet, it's pretty clear where it probably is
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While the man's skull technically hasn't been discovered yet, it's pretty clear where it probably is
The researchers believe the huge stone block may have been part of a door jamb
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The researchers believe the huge stone block may have been part of a door jamb

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.

The skeleton was discovered during excavations of a previously-unexplored part of the city of Pompeii, known as Regio V
The skeleton was discovered during excavations of a previously-unexplored part of the city of Pompeii, known as Regio V

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.

The newly-discovered skeleton has quite a story to tell
The newly-discovered skeleton has quite a story to tell

"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

5 comments
Gabe Ets-Hokin
If it was modern day, they would have found an iPhone smashed in between his face and the rock.
relogic
Sad. If bone infections don’t get you, gravity will. A new movie short-“Bad Day at Ash Rock” His quick end was charitable considering the conflagration around him.
Joshua Tulberg
lol Gabe.
Trylon
Can't find the head, eh? Make it an updated version of Curse of the Faceless Man. Maybe they can lure Richard Anderson out of retirement to narrate a documentary about this.
Nik
I suppose its a moot point, as to whether he was alive at the moment he was crushed, or that he had already succumbed to the gasses and felt nothing. Either way, it must have been a pretty terrifying experience for anyone, let alone someone who was already having mobility problems.