Pliny the Elder Death’s Puzzle Might Have Been Solved

A new study may have just found out that the skull found nearly 100 years ago in close vicinity to Pompeii could belong to Pliny the Elder. Who was Pliny the Elder? He was a Roman author, a naturalist and natural philosopher, a naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and a friend of emperor Vespasian.

There is minimal chance for the old skull to belong to Pliny. The possibility remains nevertheless, and who knows, maybe after a few more investigations, it will turn out to be true. As for the jaw found at the same time is not linked with the skull. Apparently, it belongs to someone else.

If the head turns out to belong to the Roman hero, it means that the place of his death will no longer be an enigma. The Roman hero tried to save the lives of people from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius back in A.D. 79.

Pliny the Elder’s known history

If we have a look at Encyclopedia Britannica, we can see that just before Pliny’s demise, he was fighting off pirates in the Bay of Naples. Also called Gaius Plinius Secundus was the one noticing the volcano’s massive eruption and became a hero that saved the Rome’s imperial fleet and planned on helping the survivors too. After arriving in Pompeii, he died in Stabiae, his body never been buried and left to decay naturally with the time.

In the 1900s, engineer Gennaro Matrone found more than 70 ancient skeletons in Stabiae. One of the bone structures caught his attention in a particular way as it was wearing golden necklaces and bracelets, as well as holding a sword decorated with ivory and seashells. Matrone believed that the skeleton belongs to Pliny, the Elder; however, his idea was ridiculed by the academics.

As he was not taken seriously, he sold the jewelry but kept the skull, jawbone, and sword that were moved to Italy at the Museo Storico Nazionale dell’Arte Sanitaria until scientists decided to conduct this new research.

The real question is — is it Pliny AKA Gaius Plinius Secundus?

After several tests, it was determined that the skull might really belong to Plinius, but not the same thing can be said about the jawbone. Researchers have looked at the chemical and age-related clues and discovered that the skull and jaw belong to different people.

Looking into isotopes in the teeth, scientists were able to confirm that the person lived in northern Italy during the childhood. Pliny also grew up in Como, which is in the north of Italy. However, by the teeth dental wear, the person must have had an age between 30 and 40 years. Pliny the Elder died at age 56, which means the jaw found on the shores of Stabiae is not he said Andrea Cionci, an art historian and journalist.

Skull analysis results

Two parts of the skull were tested, and both showed two different sets of age period; one part of the skull analysis showed between 48 and 65 while the other showed 33 and 58.”Both ranges cover the well-known age at death of Pliny,” said Luciano Fattore, a freelance anthropologist who worked on this project.

The skull and jaw might belong to different people as “the examination of the temporomandibular joint (the articulations between the mandible and the skull) evidenced that the skull and mandible refer to two distinct individuals,” Fattore said. According to Fattore, “the only chance to decrease the uncertainty would be to reconstruct the Pliny lineage until today and compare his genome with the one of a clear descendant.”

Jawbone analysis results

Who is the owner of the jawbone then? Based on the DNA, it could belong to a native African person that died in the eruption too. “Especially since a third of the Roman sailors were African,” Cionci said.

The isotopic analysis showed that “a hypothesis that would reconcile the data is that the jaw may belong to a second generation Numidae [a person from Numidia, an ancient kingdom in North Africa],” Cionci said. However, this is just a yet to be confirmed guess.

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