Exploration

Pompeii Victims' Bodies Revealed in Scans: Photos

The analysis revealed, among other facts, that the victims of Pompeii had very healthy teeth.

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Nearly 2,000 years after Mount Vesuvius buried Pompeii in ash and pumice, advanced imaging technology is bringing to life the victims of the devastating eruption. The CT scanning of the remains has been made possible thanks to a technique devised in 1863 by the archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli that produced plaster casts of bodies and objects buried under the ash.

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It is believed that about 2,000 people died in Pompeii, yet only 1,150 individuals have been discovered since the mid 19th-century excavations. As Pompeii was buried under 8 to 9 feet of material, bodies were encased in layers of hardened pumice and ash. Fiorelli's team found that their decayed corpses left voids. They poured plaster into the cavities, creating plaster casts of the impression in the ash. Such pictures of horror and death are now being investigated for the first time with a 16-layer CAT technology provided by Philips Spa Healthcare.

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In an unprecedented investigation, a team of researchers under the appointment of the Archaeological Superintendence of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabia began CT scanning the 86 plaster casts made by Fiorelli. Among the victims scanned was a boy, about four years old, frozen in terror. "Working with these casts was extremely moving, it felt like I was dealing with real patients," Giovanni Babino, the radiologist in charge of the project said.

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The boy was found next to an adult male and female, likely his parents, and to an infant who appeared to be asleep on his mother's lap. CT scans revealed his clothes and striking details of his skeleton. The investigation also showed that many victims, who were rushing out of their houses in a desperate attempt to escape, were killed by severe head injuries, most likely rubble that fell from collapsing buildings and roofs.

The initial results further suggest that Pompeii's people were rather healthy and blessed with nearly perfect teeth. Few of them suffered from cavities, Elisa Vanacore, a dental expert, said. "They ate a lot of fruit and vegetables but very little sugar," she told reporters. High levels of fluoride in the water that supplied Pompeii also helped.

So far, the researchers have scanned 30 casts of men, women, children, a boar and a dog. Convulsed in the last moments of life, the cast of the dog was found to contain no bones. The archaeologists believe the bones were possibly removed from the cavity prior to the Fiorelli casting process. The project is a "great step forward in our knowledge of antiquity," according to the archaeological superintendent of Pompeii Massimo Osanna. "We are going to know a lot about the victims of Pompeii: their age, sex, what they ate, what diseases they had and their social class," he told reporters.