The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in CE 79 spelled devastation and destruction for the people of Pompeii. The ashes from the volcano preserved the remains of horses and even carbonized loaves of bread. For years, archaeologists and scientists have studied the remains and recently announced that they were able to sequence the genome of one of the victims, according to The Guardian.
The victim’s DNA can unlock new secrets of the city lost to destruction.
According to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports, a team led by Gabriele Scorrano retrieved ancient DNA from two victims: one male and one female. Their remains were found in the House of the Craftsman in Pompeii, first excavated in 1914.
While they were only able to sequence part of the DNA of the women due the gaps present, they succeeded in sequencing the entire genome of the man. Prior to this, they had only been able to sequence part of animal and human DNA.
According to The Guardian, his DNA revealed that at the time of the eruption, he was likely between the ages of 35 to 40. Scorrano talked to Inverse about what else the DNA showed.
“Actually both his lineages were very rare,” Scorrano said. “What we believe it means is that he represents some Iron Age genetic diversity that was lost due to the homogenization of the Italic peninsula after the Roman Empire.”
In his DNA, they identified sequences commonly found in people from Sardinia. This, The Guardian reported, suggests high levels of genetic diversity across the Italian peninsula.
Per Inverse, researchers also found evidence that the male had back pain at the time of his death. They determined that it was possible that he had tuberculosis due to lesions in one of his vertebrae and his DNA sequence.
The female was determined to be over the age of 50. They found out that she likely had osteoarthritis.
Serena Viva, an anthropologist who participated in the study, told The Guardian, “The victims of Pompeii experienced a natural catastrophe, a thermal shock, and it was not known that you could preserve their genetic material. This study provides this confirmation, and that new technology on genetic analysis allows us to sequence genomes also on damaged material.”