Pompeii victims’ secrets revealed by ancient DNA
Researchers analysing human remains discovered genetic secrets in the bones of a man and a woman who were buried when Pompeii was overwhelmed by volcanic ash.
The first “Pompeian human genome” consists of a nearly full set of “genetic instructions” encoded in DNA retrieved from the victims’ bones. Ancient DNA was preserved in carcasses imprisoned in time-hardened ash.
The results were published in Scientific Reports. Archaeologists first discovered the two people in Pompeii in 1933, in a structure known as Casa del Fabbro, or The Craftsman’s House.
They were slumped in the corner of the dining room, almost as if they were having lunch, when the explosion occurred on August 24, 79AD. According to new research, the huge cloud of ash from Mount Vesuvius’ eruption might have killed the city’s inhabitants in about 20 minutes.
According to anthropologist Dr Serena Viva of the University of Salento, the two victims the researchers observed were not attempting to flee.
This latest analysis of their bones has offered some clues. Prof. Scorrano added that the scientists were able to extract a lot of information from a “very small amount of bone powder” thanks to the exceptional preservation and cutting-edge laboratory technologies.
The man’s skeleton had DNA from tuberculosis-causing germs, indicating that he may have had the disease before his death, according to the genomic study. And near the base of his skull, a sliver of bone held enough undamaged DNA to understand his whole genetic code.
This revealed that he shared “genetic markers” or detectable reference points in his genetic coding with another Roman Imperial era Italians. He did, however, have a collection of genes that had been detected in those from the island of Sardinia, showing that the Italian Peninsula had a lot of genetic variation at the time.
Prof. Scorrano believes that biological studies of Pompeii will yield a lot more, including old environmental DNA, which could explain more about biodiversity in the period.
“These people are silent witnesses to one of the world’s most famous historical events,” she explained.