The secrets of Pompeii’s DNA

The famous eruption that devastated Pompeii is still making people talk. This time, it was thanks to the remains of a couple that were recently studied. Genetic material was obtained from the bones. The secrets of Pompeii’s DNA were revealed thanks to this.

It is the first “Pompeian human genome”. An almost complete set of “genetic instructions” of the victims, encoded in extracted DNA. The ashes were hardened by time. The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Pompeii DNA secrets revealed by analyzing well-preserved remains.
Pompeii DNA secrets revealed by analyzing well-preserved remains.


The two people were first discovered in 1933, in what Pompeii archaeologists have named Casa del Fabbro. They were trapped in the corner of the dining room.

“It’s all about the preservation of the skeletons,” explained Professor Gabriele Scorrano. She works at the Lundbeck GeoGenetics center in Copenhagen and led the study.

A large amount of information was extracted from a “really small amount of bone dust. The new sequencing machines can read several whole genomes at the same time,” they said.

The genetic study revealed that the man’s skeleton contained DNA from the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. It is suggested that he may have had the disease before his death.

And a bone fragment at the base of his skull contained enough intact DNA to decipher his entire genetic code.

It was possible to extract information from the bones.
It was possible to extract information from the bones.

Treasures to be discovered

This showed that he shared “genetic markers with other people who lived in Italy during the Roman Imperial era. He also had a group of genes commonly found in those from the island of Sardinia. There could be high levels of genetic diversity on the Italian peninsula at that time.

Prof. Scorrano said there is much more to learn in biological studies of Pompeii. Including ancient environmental DNA, which could reveal more about biodiversity at the time. “Pompeii is like a Roman island,” he added. “We have a snapshot of a day in 79 AD.”

Pompeii’s DNA secrets are yet to reveal more. Every human body in Pompeii is “a treasure”.

“These people are silent witnesses to one of the world’s best-known historical events,” they said.

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