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How did the "world's unluckiest man" really die 2,000 years ago?

CBS News logo CBS News 12/07/2018

a close up of a rock © Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Pompeii was covered under a mountain of volcanic ash 2,000 years ago, but archaeologists are still uncovering revealing new pieces of history from the ancient Roman city. One such discovery, made by archaeologist Massimo Osanna's team, went viral this spring.

"It was so clear, it was a skeleton without a head," Osanna said. "A block, in the place where we expected the head and the head was not there.'"

Dubbed the "world's unluckiest man," the find was initially thought to be a man killed by a giant rock as he fled Vesuvius.

Osanna's team kept digging after making the discovery. They eventually found the skull in a tunnel that had been opened during a previous excavation. And it turned out the man had been asphyxiated.

The tunnel where the intact skull was found also revealed the sometimes-sloppy work of previous generations. Back then, they'd often bore through walls looking for precious items. Today's process is much slower and more methodical, even sifting through what had been discarded in previous excavations.

"This is really an experimentation," Osanna said. "There is not a manual to tell you how to approach so many complex problems."

They now use hammers that record wave velocity to detect how the ancient walls are holding up now that they're exposed to the environment. And laser-scanners and drones record what they find and where they find it so it can be passed down to future generations of archaeologists.

Each new discovery, including the richly decorated "House of Dolphins," has revived this ruined modern-day Italian city. Osanna calls it Pompeii's "second life."

"In this moment started the new life of Pompeii with new inhabitants," Osanna said. "The inhabitants were workers, archaeologists."

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