April 15, 2024


It’s been nearly 2,000 years since Vesuvius’ eruption buried the vibrant Roman city of Pompeii under a deadly blanket of ash.

The eerie ruins and the famous casts of Pompeii represent an invaluable window into the dramatic event. However, one of the most pressing questions about that day remains: what exactly was the cause of death of the victims?

Applying a new research and technological method, a European team led by the University of Valencia has determined that a number of the fossilised Pompeians died of asphyxiation — and not from dehydration or heat as previously theorised.

The researchers performed non-invasive chemical analysis on six casts, using portable X-Ray fluorescence devices for the first time, in order to uncover the elemental composition of the bones. They then compared the findings to other cremated bone samples from the Ostiense Necropolis in Rome and and buried bones from the Islamic necropolis of Colata in Valencia.

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The results of the bone analysis isn’t the sole evidence pointing towards asphyxiation. Another fact supporting the theory is the body position of the victims — appearing in a relaxed stance, lying down or stretched out, and some even covering themselves with garments.

Archaeologists working on Pompeii cast