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Pompeii Victim's Death Not What It Seemed

It wasn't decapitation, but it was still pretty awful
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 2, 2018 10:35 AM CDT
The legs of a skeleton emerge from the ground beneath a large rock at Pompeii's archaeological site, near Naples, on May 29, 2018.   (Ciro Fusco/ANSA via AP)

(Newser) – In reporting on the discovery of a centuries-old Pompeii victim in May, we wrote that it wasn't hard to figure out what killed the man: Archaeologists found a massive stone block, probably hurled by a volcanic cloud, severing the top part of his body. Now it turns out the boulder was unfairly fingered. The New York Times reports those archaeologists kept digging and turned up the victim's skull—intact and still bearing almost all its teeth (see it here)—suggesting the rock didn't decapitate or otherwise crush him as earlier thought. The skull and upper portion of his body were found another 3 feet down, directly below the initial bones, and archaeologists say the two sets of bones fit with each other.

The new cause of death? Likely "asphyxia caused by the pyroclastic flow," per a Facebook post by the Pompeii Archaeological Park. National Geographic went to the director of the Smithsonian Institution's Global Volcanism Program for an explainer on pyroclastic flow and got this: "a superheated hurricane-force wind carrying ash and rock that can destroy almost anything in its path." As for why the bones weren't on the same plane, a statement from archaeologists notes the presence of a tunnel probably explains it. They write the movement likely came as recently as 250 years ago, when a tunnel dug below the remains caved in and caused the upper bones to move downward. (The team previously explained why the man's escape may have been slowed.)

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