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A re-evaluation of manner of death at Roman Herculaneum following the AD 79 eruption of Vesuvius

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 January 2020

Rachelle Martyn
Department of Archaeology, University of York, UK
Oliver E. Craig
Department of Archaeology, University of York, UK
Sarah T.D. Ellingham
School of Science, Engineering and Design, Teesside University, UK
Meez Islam
School of Health and Life Sciences, Teesside University, UK
Luciano Fattore
Department of Chemical Engineering and Environmental Materials, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy
Alessandra Sperduti
Bioarchaeology Service, Museum of Civilizations, Rome, Italy
Luca Bondioli
Luigi Pigorini Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography, Rome, Italy
Tim Thompson*
School of Health and Life Sciences, Teesside University, UK
*Author for correspondence: ✉


Destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, Herculaneum is one of the world's most famous Roman settlements. Exactly how the victims died during the eruption, however, remains unclear. The authors address this issue by examining changes in bone apatite structure and collagen preservation, combined with collagen extraction. Results suggest that the prolonged presence of soft tissue, as well as the stone chambers in which inhabitants had sought shelter, acted as thermal buffers that minimised the heat-induced degradation of skeletal tissues. The results have implications for the interpretation of large residential sites and for contexts where heating and burning is associated with buildings.

Research Article
Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2020

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