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Pompeii's victims had great teeth, researchers say

CT scans also suggest that many died from head injuries, rather than suffocation from Mount Vesuvius eruption

Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images

Researchers in Italy are using CT scans to examine the ancient remains of those killed by a volcanic eruption in Pompeii, and the tests have yielded surprising early findings. As the AGI news agency reports, multi-layer CT scans conducted on 18 plaster cast human remains show that inhabitants of the city had "perfect teeth," and that those examined likely died from head injuries rather than asphyxiation following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.

The analysis is part of an ongoing project involving archaeologists, computer engineers, radiologists, and orthodontists. The remains of Pompeii's victims were cast in plaster in the 19th century, allowing them to be preserved and moved from the original site. But the dense casts also made it difficult for researchers to analyze the bones and teeth inside, which is why the team had to use a 16-layer CT scan machine, according to Pompeii archaeological superintendent Massimo Osanna.

"a great step forward in our knowledge of antiquity."

The researchers believe that Pompeii's ancient residents had good dental health due to a low-sugar diet that was high in fruits and vegetables, as well as high levels of fluorine in the air and water around Mount Vesuvius. As The Atlantic notes, the evidence of fatal head injuries also supports an ancient account of the eruption, which describes how locals "put pillows on their heads" to protect themselves from falling debris. Previously unearthed remains have suggested that other inhabitants died with tunics wrapped around their mouths, presumably due to the thick smoke and ash from the eruption.

Archaeologists are hopeful that the project will reveal even more details about the civilization as it moves forward. Researchers aim to scan 86 recently restored human casts, as well as animal remains from the site.

“It will reveal much about the victims: their age, sex, what they ate, what diseases they had and what class of society they belonged to," Osanna said at a press conference this week. "This will be a great step forward in our knowledge of antiquity."