Dying like Jesus: Rare victim of crucifixion discovered

Jesus Christ
No evidence of Jesus' crucifixion has ever been found, but there is little doubt amongst historians that he existed. Photo credit: Getty

Researchers have discovered the body of a 30-something-year-old man who was crucified 2000 years ago.

Despite tens of thousands losing their lives this way in ancient Rome, it's only the second victim of the barbaric practise that's ever been found.

But it's highly unlikely the body belongs to Jesus Christ - it was discovered in northern Italy, far from Jerusalem, and was buried in the dirt, not in a tomb as Christians believe.

The body was discovered by workers laying a pipeline in 2007, but it's taken until now for a detailed study of the remains to be published.

University of Ferrera crucify
The body was found by workers laying a pipe. Photo credit: University of Ferrera

The researchers found a coin-sized hole in one of the skeleton's feet which appears to have been caused by a nail. His wrists may also have been nailed, but the degraded condition of the remains made that unclear. Many crucifixion victims were tied up by the wrists, rather than nailed.

"The importance of the discovery lies in the fact that it is the second case documented in the world," University of Ferrara archaeologist Ursula Thun Hohenstein told local media.

The only previous confirmed body of a crucifixion victim was found near Jerusalem in 1968. One of his feet still had a nail in it.

"We've looked at thousands of skeletons in Jerusalem. Some were decapitated. Others were mutilated. But we've never found another one that was crucified," anthropologist Joe Zias told Reuters in 2004.

A nail through the foot of the first crucified body found, in 1968. Photo credit: University of Ferrera

That poor soul wasn't Jesus either - the tomb's inscription named him as Yehohanan Ben Hagkol.

The fact this latest body was found in the ground, rather than a tomb, suggested the victim wasn't of high social stature.

"This kind of was generally reserved for slaves," said Dr Hohenstein.

"We cannot know if he was a prisoner, but the burial marginalisation indicates that he probably was an individual deemed dangerous or defamed in the Roman society," lead study author Emanuela Gualdi told Live Science.

No evidence of Jesus' crucifixion has ever been found, but there is little doubt amongst historians that he existed. It's also widely believed he was indeed crucified.