Pollen analysis of volcanic ash in Pompeian human skeletal remains

Martina Weber, Ulrich Silvia, Annamaria Ciarallo, Maciej Henneberg, Renata Henneberg

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4 Citations (Scopus)


The time of the Vesuvius eruption, which perished Pompeii, Herculaneum and surrounding areas in ad 79, was initially set on the 24–25 August, based on written contemporary documents of the ancient historian Pliny the Younger. This date has been challenged by archaeologists and volcanologists/meteorologists, who moved the time of the eruption further into the autumn and eventually agreed to the final date 23–25 October. The October date has been confirmed by the latest discovery of inscriptions in freshly excavated areas of Pompeii suggesting the mid-late October eruption. In our original project of 2008 we attempted to solve the problem of the eruption time by analysing pollen mixed with falling down volcanic ash, and preserved intact in nasal cavities of the victims in Pompeii. The entire pollen spectrum, 31 different types, was evaluated with the focus on the exact time of the volcanic eruption. No date of eruption could be suggested from this study. The analysis revealed an unusually high amount of pollen from Hedera, an insect pollinated plant flowering from September to October in the area of Pompeii. Among three samples of ash from nasal cavities of two children and an adult considered uncontaminated Hedera pollen was found in noses of both children but not of the adult. This result is the first physical proof of Hedera as medicinal plant used for the treatment of respiratory tract disorders nearly 2000 years ago.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-113
Number of pages7
Issue number1
Early online date2019
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (http://creative
commons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is
properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.


  • Vesuvius
  • eruption time
  • Hedera pollen
  • nasal cavities
  • palynology
  • paleo-medical
  • Pompeii
  • Hedera
  • nasal cavity


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