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Archaeologists Find Rare Remains Of Man Who Died On A Cross

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Archaeologists have discovered what they believe to be the remains of a man who died after he was nailed to a wooden cross.

Remains Of A Crucified Man

A team of researchers from the Universities of Florence, Ferrera, and Siena in Italy has dug up the skeleton of a man with a round-shaped hole punched into his right heel, leading them to believe they have found the second physical evidence of crucifixion.

The remains were found in an isolated burial site in Gavello, about 25 miles southwest of Venice, in 2007 during the construction of a pipeline in the area.

"Despite the poorly preserved conditions, we would demonstrate that the presence of signs on the skeleton that indicate violence similar to crucifixion," medical anthropologist and lead author Emanuela Gualdi tells Italian-language publication Estense.

The team has published its findings in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.

Roman Slave Died On The Cross

Using a combination of 3D imaging and DNA analysis, the researchers were able to conclude from the lesion on the right heel that the man's foot had been nailed to a wooden cross before he died. No lesion was found on the other foot.

It is not possible to decipher the age of the actual remains as the damaged bones make the radiocarbon dating impossible. However, the burial site where the skeleton was found contains Roman bricks and tiles that date back to 2,000 years ago.

The researchers also note burial practices that were unusual during the said period. The man was found buried with no burial goods.

He was lying on his back, with his arms on his sides and his legs spread apart. They hypothesize that his wrists were also nailed to the cross, but the lack of evidence means they could also have been tied with a rope.

The man was short in stature and is said to be 30 to 34 years old. The lack of burial goods and the man's small build indicate that he could have been an undernourished slave or prisoner. The isolation of the tomb could also point to the fact that people refused to honor the man even after his death.

Lack Of Evidence Of Crucifixion

Historical literature is replete with references to ancient Romans nailing people to a wooden cross. The nails would hold the wrists and feet in place, leaving the victim to suffer the most amount of pain for the longest period of time.

Crucifixion was often used to publicly humiliate slaves and captives, but they were also used for revolutionaries and criminals deemed to be a danger to society.

Among those crucified, Jesus is the most famous and believed to have been crucified sometime between 30 and 36 AD. Although no archaeological evidence has ever been found, Jesus dying on the cross is a central tenet of Christianity.

There are a variety of reasons for the dearth of physical evidence. For one, the bodies were often thrown in garbage dumps where they were left to decay, although, in the case of Jesus and others, the bodies were placed in a tomb.

The nails were also believed to have magical powers and thus. were removed. Lastly, wooden crosses easily degrade, making it extremely difficult to come by them 2,000 years after they were used.

First Physical Evidence Of Crucifixion

The first known physical proof of crucifixion was discovered in Jerusalem in 1967. Vassilios Tzaferis, a Greek archaeologist, was digging through a Jewish cemetery dating back to the 2nd century BC in the Giv'at HaMivtar neighborhood. There, he unearthed the remains of a man with a 7-inch nail driven through his heel. Attached to the nail is a small piece of olive wood, which is said to be part of the cross to which he was nailed.

Tzaferis believed that the Romans did not invent crucifixion. Instead, he said they learned the practice from the Persians, Assyrians, and Phoenicians, who had been meting out this form of capital punishment since the first millennium BC.

Photo: Joanne de Leon | Flickr

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