When disaster strikes, sometimes you lose your head. That was the literal truth for one unfortunate volcano victim who lived in the ancient city of Pompeii, the Associated Pressreports: When he failed to leave the soon-to-be-decimated city as Mt. Vesuvius exploded, a massive stone block fell on his head.
Now, the man’s crushed remains are being heralded as a dramatic discovery in Pompeiian archaeology.
The man was apparently killed while trying to flee the second phase of Mt. Vesuvius’ fateful eruption in 79 A.D., the AP reports. His thorax was crushed in the process and he died face up in a torrent of volcanic material.
According to the Pompeii Archaeological Park, where the skeleton was unearthed during a new dig, the man was likely trying to flee across a section of the city already covered under fragments of volcanic rock. Then, he was thrown backward by apyroclastic flow—a dense current of volcanic rock, hot gas and debris that speeds down the side of a volcano, destroying everything it touches.
That wasn’t the end of it: As the man was thrown back by the flow, a large stone—presumably a door jamb—fell on his head, which has not been recovered.
When archaeologists examined the man’s remains, they discovered that he likely had a bone infection on his leg. That explains why he didn’t try to escape earlier.
It’s an “exceptional find,” archaeologist Massimo Osanna, the parks’ general director, says on its Facebookpage. He says the discovery reminds him of a similar individual with a bad leg who was found elsewhere in the park. Comparing the two—and uncovering even more about Pompeii—provides an “increasingly accurate picture of the history and civilization of the age,” he says.
Osanna has been tasked with revitalizing a site “held back by consistent conservation problems, lack of funds, stifling bureaucracy and looting by the infamous Neapolitan mafia,” as ArtNet’s Henri Neuendorfreported in 2015. But the seemingly Sisyphean task of turning Pompeii into a thriving archaeological site has been going well. The crushed man is the first victim discovered atRegio V, a northeastern section of Pompeii that has remained largely untouched by archaeologists.
Earlier this month, there was another extraordinary Pompeiian find—a horse that was carbonized when the volcano erupted. Archaeologists think it had been harnessed so that someone could escape the city. Unfortunately the horse’s remains were found by looters who built illegal tunnels beneath a villa. The tomb raiders are now under investigation,reports Nick Squires for the Irish Independent.
Meanwhile, the dramatic photo of the headless, crushed skeleton has gained social media celebrity, nearly 2000 years after the worst day of his life. Perhaps he’ll become a tourist attraction, too: The park is one of Italy’s most popular destinations for people eager for a look at the sometimes grisly aftermath of the ancient city that lies in Vesuvius’ shadow.