Pier Paolo PETRONE

Laboratory of Human Osteobiology and Forensic Anthropology, Departmental Section of Legal Medicine, Histology & Anatomy, Department of Advanced Biomedical Sciences, University Federico II of Naples, ITALY

Friday 8 October 2021 | 12:00 noon – ICGEB Cape Town, SOUTH AFRICA

Volcanoes, Bones and Heat: New Forensic and Bioarchaeological Evidence from the 79 AD Herculaneum Victims

Host: E. Buratti

In AD 79 the towns of Herculaneum, Pompeii and other Roman settlements up to 20 kilometers away from Vesuvius were suddenly hit and overwhelmed by successive volcanic ash-avalanches, capable of killing all residents who were not yet evacuated. The scientific studies on the Herculaneum victims are now standing from the discovery in the early 1980s of hundreds of skeletons of people crowding the beach and a series of waterfront chambers, fixated into a final vital stance by the deadly incoming pyroclastic currents. Multidisciplinary studies on the victims’ skeletons and the context of discovery shed light on the effects of the eruption and on the causes of death of its inhabitants. A recent unprecedented archaeological discovery is the finding of a vitrified brain from a human victim unearthed in the town. SEM analysis of this material revealed the unique preservation of the CNS neurological ultrastructure. Results from previous and most recent site research combined with lab analysis and experimentation are providing new information concerning the unique conditions occurred during the 79 AD eruption. Further evidence come from the genetic analysis of a group of victims found in the seafront area, that shows family relationships (first- or second-degree relatives) and, for some of them, a geographic origin different from the others. Key words: Forensic anthropology, bioarchaeology, DNA, eruption victims, Vesuvius.

Bibliography: Petrone P, Giordano G, Vezzoli E, Pensa A, Castaldo G, Graziano V, et al. Preservation of neurons in an AD 79 vitrified human brain. PLoS ONE. 2020; 15(10): e0240017.
Petrone P, Pucci P, Niola M, Baxter PJ, Fontanarosa C, Giordano G et al. Heat-induced brain vitrification from the 79 AD Vesuvius eruption. New Engl J Med. 2020; 382: 383-384.

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