3.9k Share this

The skeletal remains of a man whose flesh disintegrated in the heat from Mount Vesuvius almost 2,000 years ago has offered a new glimpse into one of history’s most famous volcanic eruptions.

Archaeologists released pictures Wednesday of the skeleton found at the ancient site of Herculaneum — which along with Pompeii was utterly destroyed by the eruption in 79 A.D. — the first human remains to be found there in decades.

The man, discovered in October and thought to be around 40 to 45 years old, was surrounded by carbonized wood. Preliminary work has also found traces of fabric and what appears to be a bag. Painstaking work is continuing to analyze the remains.

The bones were tainted red, a mark of the stains left by the victim’s blood, Francesco Sirano, director of the Herculaneum Archaeological Park, told the Italian news agency ANSA.

The site of archaeological excavations of the city of Herculaneum in Ercolano, Italy.Ivan Romano / Getty Images

“It’s helped enormously to understand both the last moments of the site, but also the 100 years running up to it,” professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill from the United Kingdom’s Cambridge University and a former director of the Herculaneum Project which collaborates on the ongoing excavations, told NBC News.

“The power of nature is absolutely awesome and to be under a volcanic eruption is just unimaginably violent. The site sits there peacefully in the sunshine and it seems so idyllic, and you have to explain to people that this has been through the most violent eruption.”

Wallace-Hadrill said that a previous excavation cut off the feet of the skeleton.

“Initially they found a couple of leg bones sticking out of the edge of the escarpment. And indeed the excavation through the escarpment had cut off the feet of this skeleton — a bit like finding a mafia killing,” he said.

Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics

The victims’ soft tissue was either vaporized in that heat or has decayed over centuries. In one case, researchers said the heat was enough to vitrify the brain of a body in Herculaneum, turning it into a hard glasslike substance, as the temperature reached 968 degrees Fahrenheit.

Known as Ercolano in modern-day Italy and situated to the south of Naples, Herculaneum was a seaside town favored by wealthy Romans. In 1709, ancient remains were revealed during the digging of a well. Previous excavations in the 1980s and the 1990s exposed more than 300 skeletons there.

Modern forensic techniques can reveal far more than previous generations of archaeologists could: Earlier this year, scientists said one skeleton found in the 1980s likely belonged to a Roman soldier sent on a doomed rescue mission to Pompeii and Herculaneum. 

“You feel that you are in immediate contact with ancient life, not the blurred contact you get from typical archaeological sites. Because the process of destruction is 24 hours, you have this extraordinary immediacy,” Wallace-Hadrill said.

Pompeii and Herculaneum were situated in different directions from Vesuvius, meaning the effect of the eruption was different on both.

Wallace-Hadrill added that many of the people killed by the eruption — their charred remains often show them cowering for shelter — could have survived had they left the area.

“The wise ones, one realizes in retrospect, simply walked away from the eruption the moment it started,” he said. “If they’d all known this, they all could have escaped, they just had to walk away… But hundreds and thousands did not.”

Source: This post first appeared on NBC News

3.9k Share this
You May Also Like

Man charged with murdering seven-year-old Nikki Allan in 1992

Man charged with murdering seven-year-old Nikki Allan in 1992: Suspect, 54, appears…
Chicago shooting: Mother of Dakotah Earley, Lincoln Park robbery victim near Webster, Wayne, says violence 'just has to stop'

Chicago shooting: Mother of Dakotah Earley, Lincoln Park robbery victim near Webster, Wayne, says violence ‘just has to stop’

CHICAGO (WLS) — On Monday, the mother of 23-year-old Dakotah Earley got…
Uvalde Texas school shooting: 19 students, 2 adults killed by shooter, authorities say

Uvalde Texas school shooting: 19 students, 2 adults killed by shooter, authorities say

UVALDE, Texas — The death toll in the shooting at Robb Elementary…

Mother’s horror as her 18-month-old toddler falls 20 feet down sewage drain

A terrified mother has revealed she will ‘never mentally recover’ after she…
Departure: Kim and Khloe Kardashian were seen making a low key exit from the Italian village of Portofino on Monday after celebrating their sister Kourtney’s marriage to Travis Barker

Khloe Kardashian leaves Portofino alongside Kim and her daughter North after Kourtney’s wedding

Kim and Khloe Kardashian were seen making a low key exit from…
Kellyanne Conway holds no punches regarding her apparent disdain for former fellow Trump staffer Jared Kushner, in her new memoir, Here's the Deal

Kellyanne Conway says Jared Kushner lost Donald Trump the White House in 2020, in new book

Jared Kushner lost Donald Trump the White House and presided over a…

Russian diplomat to the UN QUITS over Putin’s ‘intolerable’ Ukraine invasion

A veteran Russian diplomat to the UN office in Geneva quit over…

Moment Russian tanks hiding in occupied gardens are obliterated

This is the moment Ukrainian troops destroyed Russian tanks after they were…