New Evidence Smashes Assumptions of Crushing Death for Pompeii Skeleton

Updated, June 29, 2018: The “Crushed Man” was, in fact, not crushed. Nicholas St. Fleur at the

New York Times reports that further excavations revealed that the man’s intact skull was underneath the stone block. It’s likely that he died of asphyxiation from the erupting volcano. The stone block probably fell onto the body later during or after the eruption. Read our original reporting of the discovery below:

If it hasn’t become a meme yet, it soon will: there’s an image floating around the web about a skeleton with a giant stone block sitting where its skull should be. The picture comes from new excavations at the archaeological site of Pompeii where, in 79 C.E., an eruption of Mount Vesuvius devastated the prosperous ancient Roman city and covered it with ash, freezing the scene of mass chaos in time.

As CNN’s Gianluca Mezzofiore and Valentina DiDonato report, the skeleton tells the story of one poor man pinned beneath the rock. His bones indicate he was at least 30 years old, and lesions on his tibia show he had a bone infection that likely gave him a limp. After surviving the first frightening moments of the eruption, he was probably moving as fast as he could down an alleyway to flee the city when the pyroclastic flow, a high-speed tsunami of lava, ash, rock and gas rushed down the side of the mountain and slammed into Pompeii. The power of the impact is what may have propelled a giant stone block, which could be a doorjamb, onto the victim, crushing his thorax and pinning him beneath the ash for the next 2,000 years.

Yonette Joseph at The New York Times reports that archaeologists have not found the man’s head, but believe it is still underneath the stone. In a statement, Massimo Osanna, general director of the archaeological site, calls the skeleton “an exceptional find” that contributes to a better “picture of the history and civilization of the age.”

The crushed man is not the only recent find in Pompeii, which was rediscovered under the ash in 1748 and has undergone a series of excavations since. This month, researchers released images of a complete outline of a horse that died in its stable, likely while it was being harnessed so its owner could flee. Researchers also revealed that they had found a block of houses with intact balconies, some of which still had amphora, tall two-handed jars used for wine or oil, sitting on them.

As archaeologists bring the latest high-tech gadgetry to the site, new revelations are following. Osanna explains to CNN that an interdisciplinary team of engineers, restorers and archaeologists used drones and 3D scanners to recover the skeleton. Archaeologists had previously dug in the same area, but had not gone deep enough to find the crushed fellow. “This is the first time an excavation happens with all of these tools,” Osanna says.

Researchers have been trying to recreate Pompeii digitally as well—including creating one pretty cool virtual reality visit to a Roman villa.

Like this article?
SIGN UP for our newsletter

This Innovative Memorial Will Soon Honor Native American Veterans

UPDATE 6/26/18: The National Museum of the American Indian has just announced its selection of Harvey Pratt’s Warrior Circle of Honor design for its new memorial to Native American veterans, which is expected to grace the National Mall by late 2020. Harvey hopes the memorial he envisioned will become a sacred place for Native Americans everywhere.

“Native Americans have been fighting for this country ever since the Vikings, ever since Columbus,” Harvey says. “Their blood is spilled all over America. Whoever owns this land, it will always be Indian country, and Indians are always going to fight for this land, and for this nation.” His Warrior Circle of Honor will pay tribute to the ongoing sacrifice of Native American peoples all across the country, and offer a place for survivors to come together in commemoration.

Read our original story on Harvey Pratt’s design, and the four others that made it to the final phase of consideration, below.

On Veterans Day 2017, the National Museum of the American Indian made an unexpected but widely acclaimed announcement: it would be soliciting submissions from the public detailing potential designs for a brand-new memorial on the National Mall.

Situated on museum grounds, the memorial would be dedicated to the spirit, bravery and sacrifice of Native American soldiers across United States history, and would serve as a place of solace and communion for Native American veterans and their loved ones.

Now, the submission period has closed, and the museum has winnowed the pool of designs down to five possibilities. Detailed concept art of the finalist submissions went on view at both of the museum’s locations in New York City and on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Each prospective memorial approaches the narrative of Native American military personnel in a distinct way, and any would make for a beautiful, thought-provoking addition to the National Mall.

The museum is inviting outside comment from the community through June 12, 2018, as it makes its decision—the winning design will be announced in the months to come.

For your consideration, here are the five finalist designs:

Wellspring of Valor

In developing his concept for the new memorial, James Dinh took care to balance American military iconography with Native American iconography, setting symbols and the traditions they represent in intimate conversation with one another.

At the center of Dinh’s design is situated a tranquil “healing fountain,” surrounded by a quintet of tall glass spires. Labeled respectively with the values of Valor, Honor, Pride, Devotion and Wisdom, their glistening angular forms unite when seen from above to form a five-pointed star.

That this star has a void at its heart—where the healing fountain is situated—speaks to the cost of battle. “Those who died in the line of duty are marked by the empty space at the center of the star,” Dinh says in his artist’s statement, “which is illuminated at night to memorialize the courageous lives of these men and women.”

Concentric circles—“ripples,” in Dinh’s imagination—radiate outward from the star and fountain, and are bounded on one side by a mound of earth evocative of the ancient lifestyle of America’s Mound Builder peoples. Inlaid in this mound is a firm stone wall bearing testimonial quotes from Native American servicemen and women. “Like a slice through the earth,” Dinh says, “the stone wall inscribes the individual voices of veterans that are often collectively buried within history.”

One stretch of this wall, which Dinh terms the “Wall of Stories,” is particularly striking—that featuring a seated bronze sculpture of a Native American mother and child. Visitors would be invited to sit alongside the sculpture to contemplate in a moment of peace the hardships weathered by countless Native American families as a result of war.

Warriors’ Circle of Honor

Another memorial proposal featuring a prominent centerpiece is that of Harvey Pratt, which eschews the military emphasis of the star symbol at the core of Wellspring of Valor in favor of a simpler geometric form: the circle. A fixture in much Native American storytelling, the symbol of the circle—rendered in Pratt’s design in gleaming stainless steel—suggests the cycle of life and death, and the continuity of all things.

“On ceremonial occasions,” Pratt says, “a flame will be ignited at the base of the circle. Veterans, families and others are invited to ‘come to the campfire’ and tell their stories.” By situating the memorial to look out over the stillness of the nearby Chesapeake Bay wetland landscape, Pratt hopes to foster an environment of peaceful contemplation in which visitors can come together over the stories of those who have served—and share their own.

This storytelling space, which offers four arcing benches to visitors, is the inner of two concentric circles—beyond it lies a redbrick walkway, on which museumgoers can wander at their own pace and immerse themselves in the circular symbolism. Along this walk, symmetrically spaced, are four lances jutting skyward. While clearly emblematic of military courage, the lances serve another purpose: guests who wish to leave their mark on the memorial are invited to tie prayer cloths to them.

Beneath the steel circle, which Pratt calls the “Sacred Circle,” is an “intricately carved stone drum,” which will convey the constant pulse of Native American spirit and sacrifice across the breadth of America’s history. It is not strictly somber in its symbolism, however—Pratt hopes visitors will seize on the silent rhythms of the memorial as an invitation to harmonize their experiences. “The drumbeat,” he says, “is a call to gather.”

We Fought for Our Country

Daniel SaSuWeh Jones and Enoch Kelly Haney’s contest submission is also geared toward community experience, and the notion of making the stories of Native American heroes accessible to all. While humble in size, Jones and Haney’s memorial is situated near the museum to catch the eyes of as many guests coming and going as possible, inviting spontaneous conversation and opportunities for photographs.

We Fought for Our Country takes the form of a squat cylindrical plinth—whose rough-hewn marble echoes the coloration of the museum overlooking it—surmounted by a sculpture of two Native American figures captured mid-footstep. The taller figure, an adult woman shepherding a child along her path, represents nature, in all its constancy and grace. Her traveling companion, a little girl, is a personification of the future.

Stones from Oklahoma’s Chilocco Indian Boarding School, the alma mater of a great many 20th-century Native American soldiers, line Nature and Child’s path, suggesting the ceaseless yet often unacknowledged sacrifices of members of America’s indigenous communities.

Below this elevated pair, a group of faceless additional figures keeps watch in a circular formation—“six bronze Guardians,” the designers say, “representing spirit protectors of Nature and Child.” The uniforms on these bronzes correspond to the different branches of the U.S. military, while the headdresses they wear pay homage to the various major indigenous groups of America.

Farther down the column are plaques depicting the “US Military/Indian relationship with scenes of valor, endurance and sacrifice,” and a circle of eight-inch bronze figures holding hands in solidarity, camaraderie and communal oneness. A final, poignant element of the memorial is the Healing Hand, a bronze hand that invites visitors to reach out physically and put themselves in communion with Nature, Child and their Guardians.

The Enduring Dance

This concept, proposed by Stefanie Rocknak, shares with We Fought for Our Country a sense of dynamism and a deliberate blend of military and Native American dress. Where Haney’s piece elevates two symbolic figures, however, Rocknak’s sets an assortment of nine essentially side-by-side, so as to suggest a coming-together and a celebration of shared legacy. This joyous quality of the memorial is strengthened by Rocknak’s decision to present nearly all of the sculptures (“cast in bronze and finished with a granite-like patina”) as dancers in the midst of ritual performance.

Eight of the nine figures, whose diverse attire signals both wide-ranging heritage and commonality in the warrior tradition, are situated atop a small wall, inscribed on its face with textual narrative detailing the deep history of Native American service and selflessness. Rocknak says that this text will “encompass the obstacles, the achievements, and the continuation of the warrior tradition from generation to generation.”

Standing between the wall and the viewer is the interpretive figure of the Storyteller, a sculpture whose simple windblown robes suggest a kind of timelessness. She mediates between the dancing warriors behind her and the visitors eager to learn those warriors’ stories and perhaps to share their own. “Her visage will be wise, calming and eternal,” says Rocknak. “The visitor can almost hear her even-toned voice as it resonates throughout the ages.”

Driving home the storytelling focus of Rocknak’s memorial is the nighttime lighting of the figures, which dances on their stony faces so as to evoke a deeply personal fireside discussion. “The front of the sculptures will be illuminated with an amber light, which will flicker,” Rocknak says, “and so be suggestive of the glow of a ceremonial fire.”

Ribbon of Time

The final concept under consideration is Leroy Transfield’s Ribbon of Time, a sinuous stone wall that charts pictorially and via direct quotes the history of Native American service across the most tumultuous periods in global history. Transfield has proposed that the memorial be situated along the northern face of the museum, such that its own arcing form will mirror that of both the museum’s long river-like fountain and its undulating limestone exterior.

Transfield’s design might call to mind Maya Lin’s famed Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but the two walls are miles apart in their messaging. Where Lin’s cold black tribute, pointed like a chevron and reflective so as to implicate and confront viewers, suggests the weight of loss and the tragedy of dehumanization in war, Transfield’s tribute to Native American veterans envelops visitors in its welcoming recesses and tells them inspirational stories, celebrating the human bravery of individuals rather than mourning them en masse.

At the end of the wall, and the end of the meandering story, a towering sculpture of a proud Native American warrior keeps watch, looking out over the memorial and fountain and to the Washington Monument rising far beyond. His presence visually links the Native American experience etched in the stone of the wall with the broader American experience represented by the open National Mall.

The memorial will “blend and harmonize with the surrounding [landscape] as if it has always been a part of it,” Transfield says, “as if it has risen from the earth—a sort of ancient ruin that tells a great cultural story honoring the indigenous veterans of this land.”

Plans for the five designs are on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in the the exhibition “National Native American Veterans Memorial Design Competition” in Washington, D.C. and in New York City at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, One Bowling Green, through May 30, 2018. Comments are being accepted via email through June 12.

Why Juneteenth Celebrates the New Birth of Freedom

The Fourth of July isn’t the only Independence Day in America.

On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived at Galveston, Texas, bringing news to the town that the Civil War had ended and that all slaves were free. This was nearly two and a half years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Before long, the former slaves in southeastern Texas began to celebrate June 19 as Emancipation Day. Eventually, they shortened the name to Juneteenth.

A 2009 exhibit at the Anacostia Community Museum titled Jubilee: African American Celebration featured information and artifacts related to Emancipation Day festivities like Juneteenth and other African-American traditions. “People can learn about different celebrations. It’s like looking at African-American history through the lens of these special celebrations, including Juneteenth,” said Robert Hall, associate director for education at the museum.

But Juneteenth isn’t just a historical holiday; modern celebrations are increasing throughout the country, said Cliff Robinson, founder of, a site that allows individuals or groups to post information and photos from Juneteenth celebrations.

“We’ve had people from all 50 states and around the world posting on our site,” Robinson said. “I’ve seen some celebrations that try to make it historic in terms of costume, but today it can be anything: a family dinner, a backyard barbecue and everything to a concert downtown or a citywide parade. It has expanded.”

I spoke with William Wiggins Jr., professor Emeritus of Folklore at Indiana University and author of Jubilation: African-American Celebrations in the Southeast, about the history and future of Juneteenth.

Why did it take so long for word of the Emancipation Proclamation to reach Texas?

One of the popular legends associated with that is that Lincoln dispatched Union soldiers to move throughout the South to spread the word, and it took until the 19th of June.

But I think on the other end, you could perhaps say it took so long because of the resistance to emancipation itself. Texas was one of the last outposts of slavery and Galveston is sort of the epicenter. In fact, one of the last fights in the Civil War was done in Galveston and the Union forces were repelled. There had been a big resistance all along and it was because of this fact that word got slowly to east Texas. Then Gordon Granger was dispatched with a group of Union soldiers and landed at Galveston and spread the word and proceeded to go up into east Texas. He gave the executive order that slavery was no longer official and people had to compensate slaves for their labor. Texas was just sort of the outlier and took some time.

What were some of the first Juneteenth celebrations like? What food was served?

From the beginning to now, the food came from slave cuisine. One dish in particular was barbecue and the preparation and fixing of it harkens back to old days when a pit was dug, I would say about a foot deep, and it had saplings over it. They built a fire of oak and mesquite and whatever else that they wanted. They would place the coals on the floor of the pit and then on top of the pit, they would place a hog that had been killed, gutted and they would rotate its position. Starting off, the carcass would be cut-side down and skin side up and it would cook very, very slowly until the barbecuer would flip it.

Traditionally (cooking) was an all-night thing and they would be gathered by friends and sit around drinking spirited beverages. It emphasized the comaraderie and that barbecue would be the main dish. Then there was watermelon, too.

There was the strawberry pop. By any other name, it would be a picnic or Sunday dinner at its best. At the heart of it, just like turkey at Thanksgiving, the central entrée would be barbecue. And again, barbecue preparation has deep roots in slave culture.

How did Juneteenth celebrations spread out of Texas?

The movement of this celebration was part of a larger group of emancipation days across the south. The first movement, right around WWII, was westward. So where you had black families moving to California from east Texas, and southwest Arkansas and Oklahoma, to work in the shipyards, or to work in the airplane factories, then Juneteenth started cropping up in those states.

When Dr. King had the Poor People’s March and Ralph Abernathy promised King (who died April 4, 1968) that this march would be completed and it was. So they made it to Washington and they set up a camp on the mall. Everything that could go wrong did and they had to leave at the end of the summer. So how can you leave with some sense of honor? It was late June and there were people from all different states in that village for that summer, so they had a group from Texas and someone said ‘Why don’t we have a Juneteenth celebration,’ which again is a way to address poverty and freedom and harkening back to our past. They had this closing celebration, which was held on that day, and a large number of entertainers performed.

My theory is that these delegates for the summer took that idea of the celebration back to their respective communities. So I know, for example, there was one in Milwaukee, and looking at the newspapers after that summer, they started having regular Juneteenth celebrations. The Chicago Defender had an editorial that it should be a regular idea. My feeling is that because it was used to close the Poor Peoples Campaign that the idea and so forth was taken back by different participants in that march and it took root around the country. It has taken on a life of its own.

What is similar or different about the Juneteenth celebrations in the past and present?

In terms of the date and coming back, it is just a good time with homemade ice cream, baseball games and all that sort of stuff. What has changed and what has been put in there, is the whole shift, and not so-subtle shift, to emphasizing the family. These events, more and more, are being seen as instances to reaffirm and reestablish family ties. The weekend invariably would end with church service or, just like Memorial Day or Fourth of July, a visit to family burial grounds to partake in the rich telling of the stories of the ancestors.

Like this article?
SIGN UP for our newsletter

A Handy Guide to Volcano Vocab

On May 3rd, incandescent lava began oozing from Hawaii’s Kīlauea volcano, forming glowing streams of molten rock. Activity intensified last week when steam-powered explosive eruptions burst from its summit crater, sending spectacular plumes of ash, gas and steam thousands of feet into the sky. In recent days, lava fountains hundreds of feet tall began spurting from fissures, putting Earth’s fiery power on full display.

An eruption of volcano news soon followed, bringing with it an array of near-indecipherable geologic jargon. Laze, vog, lava bomb—they sound like words made up for Scrabble scores. To help you find your way through the onslaught, we asked Janine Krippner, a volcanologist and postdoctoral researcher researcher at Concord University, to weigh in on their meanings.


The wind blowing laze plumes along the shoreline toward the southwest from Kīlauea Volcano in May 2018.

(USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory)

As the glowing stream of lava flowed into the ocean, a new term began dominating headlines: laze. A combination between the terms “lava” and “haze,” laze is created when fiery lava meets cold sea water. When this happens, water boils away, and the resulting reactions produce a noxious plume of steam, hydrochloric acid, and shards of volcanic glass. As Krippner explains, the glass shards forms thanks to the rapid cooling of the lava combined with the sudden expansion of the water as steam, which produces explosions that blow the cooling lava apart.

Breathing laze plumes can be hazardous, causing a range of effects that include lung damage and irritation of the eyes and skin. Fortunately, it’s “very localized” and “dissipates quickly,” according to the USGS Facebook page.


Clouds of sulfur dioxide from the Halemaʻumaʻu vent, which will create vog.

(Wikimedia Commons)

Like laze, this portmanteau sews together two words—volcano and smog—to describe the acidic haze that commonly forms due to volcanic emissions. Sulfur dioxide, which effervesces from active volcanic vents and craters, reacts with sunlight, moisture, particulate and oxygen to produce clouds of fine particles. Also like laze, breathing vog can be hazardous to your health, and Hawaii officials and the Joint Task Force 5-0 are keeping a close watch on local air quality.

Vog can produce acid rain, but its corrosiveness pales in comparison to the skin-melting properties of concentrated acid. Over time, acid rain can pose problems for vegetation and structures, Krippner says, but it’s nothing to fear in the short term.

Magma vs. Lava

[embedded content]

These two are commonly misused, so we wanted to clarify. Magma is molten rock within the Earth. If it reaches the surface, it’s called lava. Krippner has an easy way to keep it straight. Just remember: “The magma rose and then the lava erupted.”

Lava Bomb

A small lava bomb on ground near summit Eyjafjallajokull Volcano in Iceland.

(RGB Ventures / SuperStock / Alamy)

No, you don’t need to worry about these blobs of molten rock detonating like grenades (though you still won’t want to get hit by one). The term simply refers to any fluid bits of lava larger than 2.5 inches in diameter—roughly the size of a tennis ball—that rocket from a volcano during an explosive eruption. If solid, these projectiles are known as blocks.

As they fly through the air, the blobs can often take on an aerodynamic shape like a football. But if they’re still pretty hot and squishy when they land, they often splat on the ground to form what’s known as (at least in New Zealand) a cowpat, says Krippner.


[embedded content]

This term similarly refers to fluid volcanic projectiles. As Krippner explains, there’s a little bit of an overlap between the definitions of spatter and lava bombs, but the former usually refers to liquid material flung out immediately around the vent. “Because it’s still so hot and fluid, it lands in a pile and it solidifies into one big rock formation,” she says. Over time, spatter can build up, welding to form walls or barriers of rock known as spatter ramparts.


Photograph from the Jaggar Museum, Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park, captures an ash plume rising from the Overlook crater of Kīlauea Volcano.

(USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory)

You may think you know what ash means, but bear with us. Volcanic ash is made up of tiny, prickly fragments of rocks, mineral crystals, and glass less than 2 mm in across—a far cry from the fluffy bits of charred wood or paper left over from a campfire. Instead, “it’s kind of like sharp sand falling from the sky,” says Krippner.

Volcanic ash forms thanks to the expansion of gases within the rising magma. As it erupts from the volcano, the force shatters the molten rocks, flinging the tiny bits of material sky high. For large magmatic eruptions—not phreatic eruptions like Kīlauea, which produce sparse amounts of ash (see below)—the build up of ash is a challenge to remove, Krippner says: “It’s like shoveling heavy sand.”


Ash and lava bombs are both types of tephra, which is a term that generally encompasses all volcanic projectiles. Any tephra larger than ash but smaller than bombs (2 mm to 64 mm) are known as Lapilli.

Pele’s Hair

Pele’s hair.

(Cm3826 / Wikimedia Commons)

Named after Hawaii’s goddess of volcanoes, this type of lava is composed of hair-thin fibers of volcanic glass. It forms when clots of lava fly apart in the air, stretching like hot taffy. Wind often picks up the resulting light fibers, carrying them away from the vents. Sometimes droplets of magma at the ends of Pele’s Hair harden mid-air, forming what’s known as Pele’s Tears.

hoehoe vs. ‘A‘ā

Pāhoehoe and ʻaʻā lava flows side by side at the Big Island of Hawaii in September, 2007.

(Brocken Inaglory / Wikimedia Commons)

These terms describe different types of lava—and sometimes both can happen at different points in the same flow, says Krippner. Pāhoehoe forms when the lava is hot and fluid, creating an undulating expanse of ropey rocks. ‘A‘ā flows, however, are much more viscous. They have a rough, jagged surface, which tumbles over itself as the front advances, fracturing into more pieces. The surface of the lava cools in both, but depending on its viscosity, the resulting rocks are very different.

Magmatic vs. Phreatic eruption

Mount St. Helens, shown here erupting in 1980, is an example of a magmatic eruption.

(Science History Images / Alamy)

You’ve seen both of these in the news lately, so allow us to explain the difference. Magmatic eruptions are driven by magma—which, as you’ll recall, is lava before it reaches the Earth’s surface—rapidly rising from below the volcano. With enough magma-driven oomph, these types of eruptions can be huge, producing voluminous plumes dense with ash and can last for hours, days, weeks or even (intermittently) months or years, says Krippner.

Phreatic eruptions like those of Kīlauea, on the other hand are the result of a buildup of pressure due to gas and steam. There is generally little warning of the event, Krippner says. And though still dangerous, they’re usually much smaller, produce less ash, and are shorter lived than magmatic eruptions.

Pyroclastic flows

Pyroclastic flows are avalanches of searing hot rocks, ash and gas that zip down volcano sides up to 450 miles per hour, according to the USGS. These aren’t currently a concern for Kīlauea, but this fast and deadly type of flow can happen at many other volcanoes, including Guatemala’s Fuego volcano and the Philippine’s Mayon volcano. (In fact, the build up of material from pyroclastic flows is in part what make these types of volcanos, known as stratovolcanoes, so steep.) The flows commonly form after an explosive eruption that blasts a pillar of Tephra miles high. The collapse of this column sends the fiery jumble tumbling down the slope, sharp shards of volcanic ash rising in its wake.

As the USGS warns: “If you witness a pyroclastic flow, run in the opposite direction as quickly as possible.”