The remains of an alleged 40- to 45-year-old man were found under meters of volcanic rock roughly where the shore of Herculaneum was, before the explosion of Vesuvius in AD 79 pushed him back from 500 meters (1,640 feet).
He was lying, facing inland, and likely saw death in the face as he was submerged in the molten lava that buried his city, said Herculaneum Archaeological Park official Francesco Sirano , to the ANSA news agency.
“He could have been a lifeguard,” suggested Sirano.
When Vesuvius erupted, a naval fleet came to the rescue, led by the ancient Roman scholar and commander Pliny the Elder. He died on the shore, but his officers are believed to have managed to evacuate hundreds of survivors.
The skeleton could have belonged to “one of the fugitives” who was trying to get on one of the lifeboats, “possibly the last unlucky of a group that had managed to escape,” suggested Sirano.
He was found covered with the remains of charred wood, including a beam from a building that could have smashed his skull, while his bones appear bright red, possibly blood marks left when the victim was engulfed in the volcanic discharge.
Archaeologists also found traces of cloth and metal objects – probably remains of personal belongings with which he fled: possibly a bag, work tools, or even weapons or coins, a declared the head of the archaeological park.
Other human remains have been found in and around Herculaneum in recent decades – including a skull kept in a museum in Rome that some attribute to Pliny – but the latest find can be studied with more modern techniques.
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“Today we have the opportunity to better understand,” said Sirano.
The researchers believe that in Herculaneum, temperatures reached 500 degrees, enough to vaporize soft tissue. In a poorly understood phenomenon, a rapid drop in temperature ensued, helping to preserve what was left.
Although much smaller than Pompeii, its best-known neighbor outside the southern city of Naples, Herculaneum was a richer city with more exquisite architecture, much of which is yet to be discovered.
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