Ancient Pompeii victim not crushed by stone block

It was a fascinating discovery. Archaeologists in Pompeii, Italy, unearthed the skeletal remains of a man thought to have survived the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79 — only to be killed by a flying stone block as he fled.

The findings, announced in May, were based on the position of a huge stone block next to the lower part of the man’s skeleton. Archaeologists said they believed the block severed the man’s body and crushed the upper part, believed to be under the stone.

But further research at the site has yielded the missing upper limbs, thorax and skull, researchers said this week, leading them to conclude the unlucky man died not from a projectile but from asphyxiation caused by the pyroclastic flow. That’s the blazing-hot mixture of gas, lava fragments and other debris belched out by a volcano.

Pictures from the excavation showed the large block — possibly a doorjamb — protruding from the ground just above the lower part of the skeleton, as though the man had been pinned by the flying stone.

Archaeologists now say a tunnel discovered below the body, dating from the Bourbon era of the 1700s and 1800s, caved in and caused the upper part of the skeleton to fall away.

“The identified skeletal remains consist of the upper part of the thorax, the upper limbs, the skull and jaw,” read a news release from the Pompeii Archaeological Park. “Currently undergoing analysis, they display some fractures, the nature of which will be identified, so as to be able to reconstruct the final moments in the life of the man with greater accuracy.”

Since the discovery of the man’s body, archaeologists have also discovered the remains of a small purse that the man “clutched close to his chest” containing 20 silver and two bronze coins.

While experts are still examining the coins, archaeologists say they appear to have had enough value to maintain a family of three for two weeks.

Researchers say the man was at least 30 years old. Lesions on the skeleton’s tibia are signs of a bone infection that probably caused him to limp and hampered any attempt at escape.