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Residents of ancient Oplontis were healthy, but had dental problems

Tens of victims - men, women and children packed in a room of the Villa of Lucius Crassius Tertius (the so-called Villa B), not far from the famous Villa of Poppaea at Torre Annunziata, all seeking to escape the fury of Vesuvius. At least 54 fugitives, whose skeletons were found together in the ‘90s with a wealth of coins and jewels which they had hoped to save, carrying them during their escape.

Residents of ancient Oplontis were healthy, but had dental problems
Residents of an ancient Roman villa near the Campania town of Torre Annunziata, Naples, were healthy but often had 
dental problems, according to a new study on the remains of dozens of victims of the Mt Vesuvius eruption in 79 AD 
[Credit: Parco Archeologico di Pompei]
All of these skeletons are, today, subject to anthropological, isotopic and DNA studies, conducted in collaboration with the University of Michigan (Prof. Nicola Terrenato) and the University of West Florida (Prof. Kristina Killgrove), and the assistance of Andrea Acosta, a PhD student from the University of South Carolina, which are revealing interesting information on both lifestyles and widespread illnesses at the time.

The study, whose primary phase has just been completed, will continue in situ until mid-August, providing the full results of these studies over the coming months. These are the first such examinations to be conducted in Pompeii over so wide and complex a context; thus far studies of this manner have been exclusively carried out at Herculaneum.

Among the skeletons investigated, at least two of the women were heavily pregnant. A significant number of victims were biologically related, given the presence of common genetic traits, which DNA analysis of tooth and bone samples will verify. In particular, many of them showed incisors of a characteristic shape, rarely found in skeletons of the 1st century AD of other Roman areas, which would therefore seem to link them.

The analyses of skeletal samples would generally seem to attest to a good state of health in the fugitives.

Residents of ancient Oplontis were healthy, but had dental problems
Researchers are analyzing the remains of at least 54 victims found in the archaeological area of Oplontis, 
at the Villa of Lucius Crassius Tertius near Poppea's Villa, the area's two major buildings 
[Credit: Parco Archeologico di Pompei]
Unlike the investigations conducted in other areas of the Roman world, carried out on skeletons discovered in necropoli, and therefore relating to individuals who died of natural causes or more probably from disease, and which bear evidence of pathologies such as anaemia, fractures, infections and arthritis, the studies on the remains found in the Vesuvian area allow an investigation of the lifestyles of individuals of varying age, who were subjected to a violent death in the prime of their lives.

This situation allows us to find important data on lifestyle and nutrition. The fact that no indication of pathologies such as anaemia, for example, emerges can mean that in Oplontis diseases such as malaria were not present and that the population had a balanced diet.

Through further analyses of the stable isotopes of each skeleton, it will even be possible to obtain information about the foods consumed in the final years of life.

Despite the good state of general health, the dental condition of the population of Oplontis varied substantially.

Residents of ancient Oplontis were healthy, but had dental problems
Tens of victims, men, women and children crowded in the Villa of Lucius Crassius Tertius (the so-called Villa B), 
not far from the famous Poppea Villa in Torre Annunziata, seeking to escape from the fury of Vesuvius 
[Credit: Parco Archeologico di Pompei]
Many skeletons recovered display jawbones with missing or decayed teeth, with numerous cavities and/or dental wear. In certain children and adolescents, the dental analyses would seem to indicate a prolonged period of disease or hunger.

Further detailed study will be possible over the following months through the DNA analysis of pathogenic agents and parasites of the soil where the skeletons were found. Current research conducted by the American universities together with the Management of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii have been funded by the National Endowment for Humanities, the Rust Family Foundation for Archaeological Research and the University of West Florida.
The Villa of Crassius Tertius, so-called B, was accidentally discovered in 1974 during construction works for the gym of a school, and is located around 300m from the Villa of Poppaea (Villa A). Almost the entirety of the main building and part of the surrounding structures have been brought to light. The enterprise of the villa was likely directed towards the sale of local produce, rather than their production.

On the basis of a seal recovered during the first years of excavation, the owner and manager of the flourishing business has been identified as L. Crassius Tertius. Today the villa, accessible only for investigations and studies, along with the Villa of Poppaea is the subject of research conducted by the Oplontis Project, in collaboration with the University of Texas at Austin (Prof. John Clarke), with a view towards a project of comprehensive restoration and a future opening to the public.

Source: Parco Archeologico di Pompei [August 20, 2017]

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