Crucified Skeleton Discovered in Italy

Penitents carry a statue of Jesus Christ during the 'Cristo Salvador' brotherhood procession, part of the Holy Week festivities, on April 22,2011 at the beach in Valencia Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty Images

Archaeologists in Italy discovered rare evidence of a possible crucifixion. Although the execution was believed to be done on tens of thousands of people, including Jesus Christ, the new skeleton is only the second ever found with evidence of having possibly died in this manner.

The skeleton was found in northern Italy in 2007, but a recent analysis on the body published in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences in April revealed the likely cause of death. According to the report, a coin sized hole in the back of the skeleton's heel suggest that the body may have been crucified, IFL Science reported. This execution style involved nailing an individual's' hands and feet to a giant cross and leaving them to die.

The remains are of a man who likely died in his early 30s and was no older than 34, the Italian language news outlet Estense reported. In addition to the heel wound, the burial manner of the remains, as well as the stature of the skeleton, suggest he was a slave, a class of people most likely to meet this fate.

The researchers emphasized they could not verify exactly how this particular skeleton died, as the remains have been poorly preserved. However, they note that based on the evidence, crucifixion is the most likely cause of death.

Crucifixion, which translates as "fixed to a cross" was practiced in the Roman empire for nearly a thousand years before banned by emperor Constantine in 337 AD, out of respect for Jesus and the symbolism of the cross to Christianity, Forbes reported. Crucifixion usually caused only soft tissue damage, which cannot be preserved. In addition, the nails used in the crucifixion were often taken from the victim as they were believed to be magical, Forbes reported. This left little to no archaeological evidence of the many crucifixions that took place throughout history.

The only other found remains of a crucifixion victim paint a gruesome image of a nearly imaginable death. These remains are of a man named Yehohanan who was likely 24 to 28 at the time of his death and died in Jerusalem. The victim's remains still have a nail through the heel. There is also evidence that a nail was driven through the arm. His legs were twisted and bent before being nailed to the cross, and there is also evidence that his legs were shattered while he was hanging, PBS reported.

In addition to being important archaeological evidence of a crucifixion, studying the body and how the individual died and was buried will help scientists better understand past human societies.