Pompeii skeletons reveal secrets of Roman family life

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The remains of the Roman town of Pompeii destroyed by a volcanic eruption in AD79 continue to provide intriguing and unexpected insights into Roman life - from diet and health care to the gap between rich and poor.

The skeletons of a pair of twins show what were almost certainly the signs of congenital syphilis. If that is correct, then it puts paid to the usual idea that the disease was brought back to Europe from the New World by Christopher Columbus and his sailors in the 15th Century.

That is interesting in itself - we are going to have to stop blaming Columbus, or the Americans, for syphilis.

But the discovery tells us even more about ancient Roman society and Roman families than you might think as Fabian Kanz, the anthropologist from Vienna who examined the bones, points out.

As soon as they were unearthed, archaeologists realised that they were in two groups. One lot, on one side of the room, were found with nothing - they were just bodies, with no possessions found with them at all.

The others, on the other side of the room, died with cash, gold and jewels and all kinds of precious objects.....

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