International Journal of Anthropology

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 1–20

The human skeletons of herculaneum

  • C. Bisel

DOI: 10.1007/BF02447284

Cite this article as:
Bisel, C. Int. J. Anthropol. (1991) 6: 1. doi:10.1007/BF02447284


Skeletons of 139 Herculaneans trapped by the vulcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79 were studied by observation, measurement and chemical analysis. A cross section of the population suggests that reproduction may not have been sufficient to maintain population numbers, a hypothesis corroborated by parity statistics as well as contemporaty literature.

In general, this population had excellent teeth with few lesions and edge-bite occlusion. Twenty-seven percent had some degree of hypoplastic lines in the dental enamel, suggesting that childhood illnesses were common.

The ancient population was taller than modern Neopolitans, but shorter than modern Americans. Also, their children grew at a slower rate than Americans of the same ages.

Biochemical analysis suggests that their diet was more dependent on sea fish than on red meat. Lead analysis shows slightly higher values for the adult male population than for the females.

Some degree of arthritis was apparent in 42% of the population. Traumata occurred to 22.7% of these people. Signs of healed anemia in any degree are present in 34.1%; etiology could have been nutritional deficiency or heterozygotic thalassemia. Two individuals and their pathologies are presented: one case of congenital bilateral hip dysplasia and the other of healed rickets.

Key words

Human skeletonsRoman historyAncient nutritionAncient healthage

Copyright information

© Editrice Il Sedicesimo 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. Bisel
    • 1
  1. 1.RochesterUSA