Pollen analysis of volcanic ash in Pompeian human skeletal remains

Author(s)
Martina Weber, Silvia Ulrich, Annamaria Ciarallo, Maciej Henneberg, Renata J. Henneberg
Abstract

The time of the Vesuvius eruption, which perished Pompeii, Herculaneum and surrounding areas in ad 79, was initially set on the 24–25 August, based on written contemporary documents of the ancient historian Pliny the Younger. This date has been challenged by archaeologists and volcanologists/meteorologists, who moved the time of the eruption further into the autumn and eventually agreed to the final date 23–25 October. The October date has been confirmed by the latest discovery of inscriptions in freshly excavated areas of Pompeii suggesting the mid-late October eruption. In our original project of 2008 we attempted to solve the problem of the eruption time by analysing pollen mixed with falling down volcanic ash, and preserved intact in nasal cavities of the victims in Pompeii. The entire pollen spectrum, 31 different types, was evaluated with the focus on the exact time of the volcanic eruption. No date of eruption could be suggested from this study. The analysis revealed an unusually high amount of pollen from Hedera, an insect pollinated plant flowering from September to October in the area of Pompeii. Among three samples of ash from nasal cavities of two children and an adult considered uncontaminated Hedera pollen was found in noses of both children but not of the adult. This result is the first physical proof of Hedera as medicinal plant used for the treatment of respiratory tract disorders nearly 2000 years ago.

Organisation(s)
Department of Botany and Biodiversity Research
External organisation(s)
Archaeological Superintendency of Pompeii, Pompeii, Italy, Flinders University, University of Adelaide
Journal
Grana
Volume
59
Pages
107-113
No. of pages
7
ISSN
0017-3134
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1080/00173134.2019.1638448
Publication date
2019
Peer reviewed
Yes
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
106008 Botany, 106049 Ultrastructure research
Keywords
Portal url
https://ucris.univie.ac.at/portal/en/publications/pollen-analysis-of-volcanic-ash-in-pompeian-human-skeletal-remains(3126ba30-1a4a-469a-be7c-cdf6c6ab6c11).html