A “sensational” fugitive skeleton found in Herculaneum – Italy

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ROME – Archaeologists have made what Culture Minister Dario Franceschini described as a “sensational” new discovery in Herculaneum, the partially mutilated skeleton of a 40-45 year old man as the avalanche of fire and gas from Vesuvius has stopped a step away from the sea and the mirage of salvation, the director of the archaeological park Francesco Sirano told ANSA exclusively, 25 years after the last excavations of the ancient Roman city buried by the volcano.
The find could shed new light on the last moments of life in the city a few miles from Pompeii, Sirano said.
“This is a find that we have high expectations for,” he said.
Franceschi said “this is a sensational discovery”.
He said that “the sensational discovery of the remains of a fugitive at the archaeological site of Herculaneum is excellent news, first of all because the discovery is due to the resumption there, after nearly 30 years, of the scientific excavations carried out by the technical services of the ministry. Staff.
He stressed that “the fascinating hypotheses surrounding the mystery of the death of this last victim discovered in the eruption of 79 AD are now in the hands of experts, who can rejoice in this result which is also due to the support of the Packard Humanities Institute “.
The scene of this latest find is the old beach of the ancient city, where, during the last systematic excavations of the 1980s and 1990s, we found, piled up in small shops facing the ancient sand, the remains of more than 300 fugitives sought refuge while awaiting a possible rescue by the fleet of Pliny the Elder.
The new excavations, which have seen the archaeologists of the park work for weeks, are linked to the establishment of a new path that will allow visitors to reach the monumental Villa des Papyri by retracing the old seafront promenade, the only fully preserved seafront of a Roman city.
The remains of man, a middle-aged person who, according to the first anthropological tests, was between 40 and 45 years old, were found at the base of the extremely high lava rock wall that now closes the old sea ​​front.
He was lying there, his head turned towards the sea and surrounded by large charred wood, including a roof beam that could have crushed his skull.
The bones are a bright red color, which is “the mark of the stains left by the victim’s blood”, explains the archaeologist, explaining that it is a consequence of the unique combustion process caused in Herculaneum. by the flow of magma, ash and gas spewed out by Vesuvius.
“The last moments here were instantaneous, but terrible,” Sirano emphasizes.
“It was one o’clock in the evening when the pyroclastic surge produced by the volcano reached the city for the first time with a temperature of 300 to 400 degrees, or even, according to some studies, of 500 to 700 degrees.
“A white-hot cloud that raced towards the sea at a speed of 100 kilometers per hour, which was so dense that there was no oxygen inside.” This hell “in a few minutes engulfed and engulfed the upper part of the city, uprooting the roofs and mowing down men and animals with such heat that their bodies evaporate”.
It was, for the man who has just been found, an excruciating death, which “he must have seen face to face”, perhaps after having turned to seek the reason for that deafening roar that he heard behind him or light that suddenly pierced the blackness of the night, Sirano says, adding that with experts on his team, including professionals made available by the Packard Humanities Institute (which also drew up plans to preserve the area), he now wonders about the identity of this new victim and the role he played in the last moments of the city.
One thing is certain: he did not take shelter with all the others who piled up in the fishermen’s reserves.
“It was perhaps a lifeguard, a companion of Pliny’s officer who was found in the 1980s about 20 meters from this point, still on the beach.” he says.
So a soldier, who was perhaps rigging a rowboat to take a first group of people to safety at sea. “Or one of the fugitives, who left the group to join the sea in the hope of boarding the ship. one of the lifeboats, perhaps even the last and most unfortunate of a group that had managed to get to sea, “says Sirano.
There are a lot of speculations at the moment, even that the poor man was watching the rescue ships, seeing that Pliny the Younger (nephew of the Grand Admiral and scholar who lost his life in the eruption of 79 AD) says that his uncle’s armed quadriremes were forced to give up mooring at the last minute, brought to a halt by a sudden deterioration of the situation.
Whatever the truth, in order to better understand what really happened, the skeleton will now be removed using special metal blades along with more of the lava rock in which it is embedded, and the excavation will continue in the laboratory. .
The first in situ examinations, meanwhile, revealed traces of what appears to be tissue and metal around the skeleton.
“Maybe it was a bag with his working tools, but also weapons or coins,” says Sirano.
There is a lot of curiosity, also because compared to 25 years ago, investigative techniques and tools have evolved a lot.
“Today we have the opportunity to better understand,” explains the archaeologist.
Stayed for centuries under a rock face more than 26 meters high, the poor fugitive may well add new details to the tale of that fateful night.


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