Researchers for the first time obtained DNA from the remains of people who died during a volcanic eruption in Pompeii

Anhelina Sheremet

Researchers studying human remains from Pompeii have extracted genetic secretions from the bones of a man and a woman who died during a volcanic eruption. This is the first "Pompeian human genome", it was extracted from "a really small amount of bone powder."

The work was conducted by researchers from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and the University of Salento in Italy. The results were published in the journal Scientific Reports, quoted by the BBC.

The two people were first discovered in 1933 in a place that archaeologists in Pompeii called Casa del Fabbro or the House of Craftsmen. They were sitting in the corner of the dining room, as if they were having lunch when the eruption took place on August 24, AD 79. The man was 35 to 40 years old and 164.3 centimeters tall. The woman was over 50 years old, with a height of 153.1 centimeters.

According to anthropologist Dr. Serena Viva of the University of Salento, the two victims studied by researchers did not try to escape.

"Judging by the position of [their bodies], it seems that they did not run away. The answer to why they did not run away may be their state of health," said the researcher. Hints were found in this new study of their bones.

Genetic research has shown that a manʼs skeleton contained DNA from bacteria that cause tuberculosis, suggesting that he may have contracted the disease before his death. And the bone fragment at the base of his skull contained enough intact DNA to decipher all of his genetic code.

The man had white "genetic markers from other people who lived in Italy during the Roman Empire, but he also had a group of genes commonly found in Sardinians, which suggested that at the time the Italian peninsula could have a high level of genetic diversity.

In the remains of this man, the DNA is so well preserved thanks to a layer of volcanic ash that protected the remains from the effects of oxygen and other environmental factors.

The eruption of Vesuvius began in the afternoon of August 24 (according to other sources, October 24) AD 79 and led to the destruction of three cities — Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabia, as well as several villages and villas. The eruption was so strong that the ashes from it even reached Egypt and Syria. Of the 20,000 inhabitants of Pompeii, about 2,000 died. Most residents left the city before the disaster, but the exact death toll is unknown.