Found: Complete DNA of Pompeii Man Who Died 2,000 Years Ago

Improvements in DNA analysis have once again allowed archaeologists to glimpse into the distant past.

Scientists have managed to fully sequence the genome of one of the victims of Pompeii, the Italian town destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

The volcanic ash that eradicated the city and its people also preserved them until the city’s rediscovery in the 18th century. Scientists have continued to find new ruins and remains ever since — including the man whose DNA now sheds new light on ancient mysteries.

pompeii

Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii. Photo: Darryl Brooks/Shutterstock

 

Archaeologists first discovered this Pompeii victim in the 1930s. He was sitting in a blacksmith’s house eventually called the Casa del Fabbro, or House of the Craftsman. The remains of a woman, likely 45 or older, also turned up in the same room next to a bag of money.

Recently, archaeologists discovered that the bones of those two individuals were more preserved than many other victims. That appeared to offer an opportunity for DNA analysis.

They found sufficient biological material in the man’s bones to allow for the first-ever genetic profile of a Pompeii victim. Researchers published their results in an article in Scientific Reports.

Results of DNA analysis

They determined that the man was likely between 30 and 35 years old at the time of his death. He was about 164cm, or 5’5″ tall. His DNA suggests that he was similar to modern Sardinians and people from Central Italy. That finding seemed slightly surprising, although genetic diversity defined this time period, because of the Roman Empire’s practice of slavery.

The man also likely suffered from spinal tuberculosis, which was common in Italy in this era. Several writers of that time mentioned how common the ailment was.

The study of ancient DNA, like the samples from the Pompeii victims, can reveal much about how our brains have evolved over time. Researchers also hope that future work on other victims of Pompeii will help reconstruct the lifestyle of this Imperial Roman period.”