'Unluckiest guy in history' may not have been crushed to death by Pompeii rock

Scientists admit initial analysis was likely wrong

Tom Embury-Dennis
Saturday 30 June 2018 16:38
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The skeleton was found sprawled beneath a large block of stone which covered where its head would have been. Ciro Fusco/EPA
The skeleton was found sprawled beneath a large block of stone which covered where its head would have been. Ciro Fusco/EPA

Archaeologists who uncovered the skeleton of a man attempting to flee the eruption of Mount Vesuvias in 79AD may have wrong about how he died.

Dubbed the “unluckiest guy in history”, images of the skeleton – found at the Pompeii archaeology site - captured the world’s imagination, after scientists said he appeared to have been crushed by a rock “violently thrown by the volcanic cloud”.

“A formidable stone block… collided with his upper body, crushing the highest part of the thorax and yet-to-be-identified head, which probably lies under the stone block,” archaeologists said in a statement last month.

But now scientists admit their initial analysis may have been wrong. Having finally removed the rock, they found the man’s skull was totally intact.

“The identified skeletal remains consist of the upper part of the thorax, the upper limbs, the skull, and jaw,” the Pompeii Archaeological Park announced earlier this week. “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.”

“Currently undergoing analysis, they display some fractures, the nature of which will be identified, so as to be able to reconstruct the final moments in the life of the man with greater accuracy.”

Discovery of ancient horse, revealed by tomb raiders' tunnels under Pompeii

The man's ancient remains were uncovered in an area of new excavations, near a newly-discovered alleyway of balconied houses.

The archaeological site’s general director, Massimo Osanna, called it “an exceptional find” that contributes to a better “picture of the history and civilisation of the age”.

Earlier this month, archaeologists were searching the remains of a large Roman villa and found the carbonised remains of a horse, which also died during the eruption of Vesuvius – in another unusual discovery.

Most of the inhabitants of Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum were not killed by lava.

Instead it was a huge cloud of hot gas and fragments called a pyroclastic flow which engulfed the city, burying them in ash and preserving their final moments.

Archaeologists believe it was this lethal cloud which struck their newest discovery, throwing him backwards as he turned to look at it.

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