The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

The human skeletal remains from Herculaneum: new evidence from the excavation of the fornici 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11


1Laboratorio di Antropologia, ARCA sas, Lusciano, Italy, 2Sezione di Antropologia, Museo Nazionale Preistorico Etnografico "L. Pigorini", Rome, Italy, 3Faculty of History, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

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The human odontoskeletal sample recovered from the excavation at Herculaneum represents a portion of a "living" population, who died trying to escape from the eruption of the Vesuvius volcano in AD 79. Between 1980 and 1997, 248 individuals were recovered from the beach and from the 9 fornici (boat chambers) where they were sheltering from the impact. A further 107 individuals were recovered during the excavation in 2008-2010 from fornici 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11. The Herculaneum skeletal sample has been the subject of a number of scientific investigations. Nevertheless, for reasons related to the complex articulation of the archaeological record, it was not possible to fully consider the dynamics of the sample formation.

The sex and age distribution of the new sample changes substantially the previously proposed scenario where a sex ratio strongly unbalanced towards males and a deficiency of infant and juvenile individuals were interpreted as the effect of the earthquake that hit the region probably in AD 63. Results from the new sample show an opposite sex ratio (0.65) and the presence of a substantial amount of infants and juveniles among the death. This evidence, in the context of a reexamination of the whole sample, points toward the necessity for reconsidering whether the Herculaneum remains can be assumed as a randomly selected catastrophic sample. Conversely, the demographic profiles of the single fornici sub-samples, together with historical and epigraphic considerations, point toward a sample formation process where social behavior and demography played an important role.

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