An interdisciplinary team of scientists has begun scanning the 1900-year-old remains of the victims of Mt. Vesuvius in Pompeii. Although the first scans began in September, the team has already uncovered a wealth of information.
When Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, it buried Pompeii under 30 feet of pumice and ash. With time, the ash hardened and the former denizens’ bodies decomposed, leaving pockets of human-shaped voids in the ash.
The perfectly-preserved city was abandoned until 1748, when a group of explorers began excavating the site. When they discovered human remains below the surface, excavators set about trying to preserve the bodies. They poured plaster into the voids, making lifelike casts of the perished victims. The plaster preserved facial expressions and clothes as if time had stood still.
In addition to preserving the victims’ external features, the casts enabled archaeologists to move victims from the site and preserve their remains from disintegration. However, they also precluded scientists from being able to analyze the organic human material, such as teeth and bones.
Until now. With the help of a CT scanner, scientists can now, for the first time, see inside the casts.
By doing so, a multidisciplinary team of researchers – including archaeologists, restorers, radiologists and anthropologists – hope to get a better idea of how ancient Romans lived. “It will reveal much about the victims: their age, sex, what they ate, what diseases they had and what class of society they belonged to,” said Massimo Osanna, the archaeological superintendent of Pompeii. “This will be a great step forward in our knowledge of antiquity.”
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