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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

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

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

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Correspondence to Ursula Thun Hohenstein.

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Gualdi-Russo, E., Thun Hohenstein, U., Onisto, N. et al. A multidisciplinary study of calcaneal trauma in Roman Italy: a possible case of crucifixion?. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 1783–1791 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-018-0631-9

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Keywords

  • Osteoarcheology
  • Taphonomy
  • Ancient DNA
  • Roman Age
  • Italy