A multidisciplinary study of calcaneal trauma in Roman Italy: a possible case of crucifixion?

  • Emanuela Gualdi-Russo
  • Ursula Thun HohensteinEmail author
  • Nicoletta Onisto
  • Elena Pilli
  • David Caramelli
Original Paper


Crucifixion is a cruel method of execution. This capital punishment was perfected during the Roman Empire. Despite being a frequent practice, there is only one well-documented anthropological case of crucifixion in the world at the Jerusalem burial cave (Giv’at ha-Mivtar, first century AD). We found a particular lesion on the foot of a skeleton from an isolated Roman burial discovered by excavation in 2007 in northern Italy. Here we suggest crucifixion as a possible cause of the lesion, but this interpretation is complicated by the poor preservation of the bone surfaces and the damage and holes in other skeletal parts. To assess the biological identity of the deceased and the possible effects of ante-mortem violence on this subject, we performed an integrated (anthropological, taphonomic, and genetic) analysis of the remains. Burials showing evidence of violence or deviant burials may shed new light on past human societies. In this case, our interdisciplinary approach provides insight into a particular form of capital punishment.


Osteoarcheology Taphonomy Ancient DNA Roman Age Italy 



We thank the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per le province di Verona, Rovigo e Vicenza for providing the skeletal remains used in our study. We thank Sebastiano Pedrocco, who performed a preliminary study for his thesis under E.G.-R and N.O. direction, Federica Grandi for the preparation of the crucifixion drawing, Dr Marco Bertolini for figure editing and Dr. Francesco Boschin and Dr. Jacopo Crezzini for the image at the Hirox Digital Microscope KH-7700 (University of Siena, Department of Physical Sciences, Earth and Environment, Research Unit of Prehistory and Anthropology).

Funding information

This work was supported by FAR grant from University of Ferrara as funding source.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biomedical and Specialty Surgical SciencesUniversity of FerraraFerraraItaly
  2. 2.Department of Human StudiesUniversity of FerraraFerraraItaly
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUniversity of FlorenceFlorenceItaly

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