Is This The Hero of Pompeii? Archaeology Crowdfunding Holds Key to Unlock the Mystery

A skull belonging to the Hero of Pompeii, the Roman philosopher and naval commander who helped save thousands of lives in the famous city during the deadly volcano eruption of Mt. Vesuvius 2,000 years ago, is about to be verified.

But, before the remains of Pliny the Elder can be conclusively identified, Italian scientists need to raise enough money to carry out tests, such as a stable isotope analysis, to determine where the skull that now sits in a Rome museum came from and if it belongs to the fallen commander of the Roman fleet.

Because Italian cultural and scientific institutions are mired in a budget quandary, the mystery behind the man who lost his life leading history’s first large-scale rescue operation may rest with a profitable archaeology crowdfunding campaign.

Relaxed funding for excavations and government support for the study of ancient cultures like the Pliny project have sometimes put the onus on crowdfunding to engage the archaeological community and get potential donors involved to back proposals.

Most of the crowdfunding platforms for archaeology projects require a processing charge — about 10 percent to 15 percent – based on whatever money is raised, said Libby Hikind, founder and CEO of the free crowdfunding platform UHelp.

“With so many tasks needed to ensure high-quality work, some projects have difficulty obtaining funds,” said Hikind. “Crowdfunding has become a valuable tool to foster collaboration between historical societies and academic institutions that promote the sponsorship of those quality research projects they feel passionate about.”   

Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, and smothered Pompeii, a city of 20,000, in deadly hot ash before many people had time to escape. Pliny the Elder, who commanded the Roman fleet from across the bay in Naples, used his ships to sail into Pompeii and rescue local citizens to safety.

Pliny the Elder sailed into danger and, like some 2,000 others who are believed to have perished in the molten ash, never returned from Pompeii. A body found a century ago “covered in jewelry like a cabaret ballerina,” may have really been his. But, those beliefs have never been confirmed. 

Some skeptical archeologists have argued that a Roman admiral would never have appeared so heavily decorated, like a "ballet dancer." But, Gennaro Matrone, an Italian engineer who was involved in an early excavation at Pompeii and discovered the remains of 70 people near the shoreline, has a hunch that one of the figures found away from the others is Pliny the Elder.

Once an estimated 10,000 thousand euros from crowdfunding is found, Matrone believes testing the isotopes in the teeth of the skull will validate his claim.

About the Author: Staff Writer for UHelp