When the headless skeleton of a Pompeii man was discovered in May, archeologists believed he was decapitated by a large block of stone that landed on top of him and severed his head while he was fleeing the eruption of Mount Vesuvius some 2,000 years ago.
But his skull, discovered weeks later, tells a different story.
It now seems that the volcano victim, known around the Internet as the “Unluckiest Guy in History,” died by asphyxiation after inhaling lava gases and hot ash—a fate shared by other victims of the ancient volcanic eruption.
The man’s skull—intact, with a mouthful of teeth—was discovered along with his upper torso directly under the rest of his skeleton. Archeologists now believe the upper half of the body was separated from the lower half during archeological digs in the 1700s or early 1800s.
“His death was presumably not, therefore, due to the impact of the stone block, as initially assumed, but likely to asphyxia caused by the pyroclastic flow,” Pompeii Archeological Park announced on June 28, adding that archeologists are now analyzing several fractures found on the skull “so as to be able to reconstruct the final moments in the life of the man with greater accuracy.”
The most recent discovery shifts the narrative archeologists initially created for the victim, when they hypothesized that the man was attempting to flee the volcanic eruption when he was thrown on his back by the flow of lava, then decapitated by a large block of stone—perhaps a door jamb—that had also been dislodged by the lava. The man, who was likely slowed down by a bone infection on his leg, was believed to be around 35.
But the new evidence—including the condition of his teeth and skull—suggests he could have been anywhere from 35 to 50 years old. And a pouch of silver and bronze coins discovered around his neck could indicate that the man, perhaps a merchant, had gathered his savings before fleeing the volcano.
He never made it to safety. And when his skull was discovered, the mouth was wide open, showing a set of remarkably good teeth.
As one archeologist told The Washington Post, the volcano victim’s teeth “are really nice. They’re worn down but they’re really nice.”