Story at a glance:

  • A red-coated skeleton got buried under the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the city of Herculaneum in 79 AD.
  • More than 300 victims were found piled in boat sheds in excavations in the 1980s and '90s.
  • Archaeologists said the man, believed to have been aged between 40 and 45, was killed just steps away from the sea as he tried to flee the eruption.

In the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum, a red-coated skeleton got buried under the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius, near the ancient city of Pompeii.

Called "sensational" by Italy’s culture minister, the remains provide insight into the tragedy. It is also the most significant discovery made by Italian archaeologists at Herculaneum in three decades.

“The sensational discovery of the remains of a fugitive at the archaeological site of Herculaneum is great news, first of all because the find is due to the resumption in this place, after almost 30 years, of scientific excavations conducted by the ministry’s technical staff," culture minister Dario Franceschini said, according to Italian publication Ansa.


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Herculaneum was buried under about 50 feet in volcanic ash. It got rediscovered in the early 18th century during a digging exhibition.

The bones belonged to a man, suggested by archaeologists to be between 40 and 45. He got killed by the eruption during his failed attempts to flee to the sea, The Guardian reported.

It appeared a roof beam fell on the man's head, potentially crushing his skull, experts said. The body was found on what would have been the town's beach.

The bones are said to be bright red due to "the mark of the stains left by the victim’s blood," Francesco Sirano, the director of Herculaneum archaeological park, told Ansa.

"It was one o'clock at night, when the pyroclastic surge produced by the volcano reached the town for the first time with a temperature of 300-400 degrees, or even, according to some studies, 500-700 degrees," Sirano said.

"A white-hot cloud that raced towards the sea at a speed of [60 mph], which was so dense that it had no oxygen in it." 

"[This inferno] in the space of a few minutes engulfed and swallowed up the upper part of the town, uprooting the roofs and mowing down men and animals with a heat such as to make their bodies evaporate," he added.

The discovery was made during the first archaeological dig at Herculaneum, a much smaller and less well-known site than neighboring Pompeii, in almost three decades. 

This is not the first skeleton to be recovered. More than 300 victims were found piled in boat sheds in excavations in the 1980s and '90s. The victims were said to be sheltering while they waited to be rescued by sea.


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Published on Oct 18, 2021