DNA Sequencing Solves Pompeii Mystery

Man who didn't try to flee had spinal condition, researchers say
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 27, 2022 8:40 AM CDT
DNA May Explain Why This Pompeii Victim Didn't Flee
The two skeletons were found during excavations almost 90 years ago.   (Notizie Degli Scavi di Antichita, 1934)

Scientists say they have fully sequenced the DNA of a Mount Vesuvius victim for the first time—and the genetic information explains why the Pompeii resident didn't flee the eruption nearly 2,000 years ago. According to research published in the journal Scientific Reports, the man's DNA sequence showed signs of tuberculous spondylitis, a spinal condition also known as Pott's disease. Researchers say the man, who was 35 to 40 years old, would have had little mobility, the New York Times reports. His skeleton was found on a wooden couch, near the skeleton of an older woman who had a bag of 27 silver coins.

The well-preserved skeletal remains were discovered under a layer of volcanic material during the excavation of Casa del Fabbro, or House of the Blacksmith, in 1933, the Wall Street Journal reports. Researchers say there were too many gaps in the woman's DNA for full sequencing, but comparison to around 1,500 modern and ancient samples showed that the man was genetically similar to the inhabitants of Rome, 150 miles away, though he also had genes commonly found in people in Sardinia and what is now western Turkey, suggesting the area had a high level of genetic diversity.

Thanks to advances in technology, researchers were able to extract and sequence DNA from the extremely hard petrous part of the man's skull. Anthropologist Dr. Serena Viva from the University of Salento tells the BBC that unlike many others, it appeared that the man and woman were not trying to escape the eruption, probably because of their health conditions. She says every body recovered from the ancient site is a "treasure." "These people are silent witnesses to one of the most well-known historical events in the world," she says. "To work with them is very emotional and a great privilege for me." (More Pompeii stories.)

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