Sep 01, 2017 I Paul Seaburn

The Skull of Pliny the Elder May Have Been Found

Home is where the heart is.
The only certainty is uncertainty.
Take two dried walnuts, two figs, and twenty leaves of rue; pound them all together, with the addition of a grain of salt.

If you don’t know who Pliny the Elder was, you certainly know at least a few of his famous aphorisms, especially that “take it with a grain of salt” one. You’ve also used one of his innovations either online or in book form – his book Naturalis Historia (Natural History) was the model for encyclopedias. And his name is forever tied to the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE – he died in it while trying to rescue a friend and that type of eruption is now known as a ‘Plinian eruption’ due to the detailed descriptions of the volcano and his uncle’s tragic death in it by Pliny the Younger. Now word comes out of Italy that a body found in the volcanic ash and “covered in jewels” may have belonged to Pliny the Elder.

In his new report in the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa, art historian Andrea Cionci reveals that the bones and artifacts were found over a century ago but were not linked to Gaius Plinius Secundus, aka Pliny the Elder. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, an engineer named Gennaro Matrone discovered about 70 skeletons near Stabiae, a coastal town 4.5 km (2.8 miles) from Pompeii and the port town believed to be where Pliny tried to rescue his friend, Rectina, and where, after failing to find her, he was killed by poisonous gases from the volcano.

One body wore a gold triple necklace chain, golden bracelets and a short sword decorated with ivory and seashells. While Matrone believed he had found the remains of Pliny, archeologists thought a Roman commander would not be "covered in jewelry like a cabaret ballerina" and dismissed the theory. Matrone sold the jewels and reburied the bones, keeping just the skull and the sword. Those eventually ended up in the Museo di Storia dell'Arte Sanitaria (the Museum of the History of the Art of Medicine) in Rome.

Enter Flavio Russo, author of a book on Pliny the Elder. He is now raising money (he needs 10,000 euros or $11,900 US) with the help of Andrew Cionci to have two tests conducted on the skull, which has already been determined to be of a male aged around 55, about the age of Pliny when he died.. One will compare it to busts and images of Pliny to determine if there’s a resemblance.

The other will examine the isotopic signatures of the enamel of the teeth to determine where the owner of the skull grew up. They hope the test will match the isotopes to those of someone who was raised in the northern Italian town of Como, the boyhood home of Pliny the Elder. The fundraising is still underway and obtaining the proper permits to conduct the tests will take several months.

If everything matches, will this be proof that the skull and sword belonged to Pliny the Elder? Sure … with a grain of salt.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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