Almost 2.000 years have passed since the eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried the vibrant Roman city of Pompeii under a deadly blanket of ash.
The eerie ruins and famous "statues" of Pompeii represent an invaluable window into the dramatic event. However, one of the questions about that day remains: what exactly was the cause of death of the victims?
Applying a new research and technology method, a European team led by the University of Valencia found that several of the fossilized Pompeians died of suffocation — not dehydration or heat, as previously thought.
The researchers performed non-invasive chemical analysis on six casts, using portable X-ray fluorescence devices for the first time, to reveal the elemental composition of the bones. They then compared the findings with other cremated bone samples from the Ostiense necropolis in Rome and with buried bones from the Islamic Colata necropolis in Valencia.
Bone analysis results are not the only evidence pointing to suffocation. Another fact that supports the theory is the posture of the victims — they are shown in a relaxed posture, lying down, and some of them are covered with clothes.
The researchers say that these six people were trying to leave Pompeii after the rain of small ash rocks stopped. They were killed by the second phase of the eruption, which emitted a high concentration of ash and toxic volcanic gases. Bone evidence also suggests that individuals were exposed to the extreme temperatures of pyroclastic waves and lava only postmortem — having an effect similar to cremation.
It is estimated that the six Pompeians died about 20 hours after the first explosion.
According to the team, the results of the research can not only help reconstruct the events surrounding the death of these individuals, but also shed light on other causes of death during the eruption of Vesuvius. This is particularly important since the asphyxiation hypothesis is limited to the six samples. It is possible that the catastrophic event killed people in many different ways.
But the study demonstrates yet another case of how advanced technologies are bringing us into a new era of archaeological knowledge and preservation of our cultural heritage. Consider robot excavators or the use of space technologyς για την τεκμηρίωση και την discovery ιστορικών τοποθεσιών.
Business opportunities are also emerging, with a significant number of European startups operating in this area. A notable example is UK-based ArchAI, founded by archaeologist and computer scientist Iris Kramer. THE company uses AI models for automatic detection archaeological sites in geodesy data.