By definition, crucifixion victims were condemned criminals whose remains typically didn’t see an honorable burial by which those remains might be preserved. Also, the practice was banned by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the A.D. 300s, so any skeletal remains of crucifixion victims would be considerably decayed due to the passage of so many centuries of time.
However, that doesn’t mean no evidence has been found. The April 2018 edition of the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences reported on a new analysis of the skeleton of a man originally found in northern Italy in 2007. “. . . Despite the poorly preserved conditions, we could demonstrate the presence of signs on the skeleton that indicate a violence similar to crucifixion,” co-author Emanuela Gualdi told the Italian-language newspaper Estense.
“The importance of the discovery lies in the fact that it is the second case documented in the world,” co-author Ursula Thun Hohenstein told Estense. “Although this brutal type of execution has been perfected and practiced for a long time by the Romans, the difficulties in preserving damaged bones and, subsequently, in interpreting traumas, hinder the recognition of crucifixion victims, making this testimony even more precious.”
Researchers concluded that the remains were of a 30- to 34-year-old man who had died and been buried during the Roman era. A hole about a third of an inch (9mm) in diameter passed entirely through the right heel bone. While not entirely conclusive, piercing of the heel bone by a crucifixion nail seemed to be the most logical explanation for the unusual wound.
This corresponds to the prophetic description of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion wherein His hands and feet would be pierced (Psalms 22:16 Psalms 22:16For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
American King James Version×). In the case of these skeletal remains from Italy, the other heel bone was missing and the hands and arm bones were too degraded to provide any further evidence of crucifixion.
This latest find corresponds closely with remains found of a crucified man in Jerusalem in 1968. In that case archaeologists excavated a tomb from the first century where they found the remains of a young man 20 to 24 years old. One of his heel bones was still pierced by a seven-inch iron nail to which was still attached a small fragment of olive wood.
While the Romans normally retrieved and reused such nails, in this case the nail had apparently hit a knot in the wood and bent, preventing it from being retrieved—so it was left in the man’s heel bone when his body was entombed 2,000 years ago.
Another intriguing piece of evidence regarding crucifixion is a bit of graffiti dating from the late first to early third century scratched into a piece of plaster found in Rome. It depicts a person standing before a crucified, donkey-headed figure and bears the inscription “Alexamenos worships his god”—apparently intended as an insult to an early Christian named Alexamenos and his religion of Christianity.
Many such discoveries from the field of archaeology confirm details we read about in the Bible as well as shed light on what we read there. If you’d like to learn more, read The Bible and Archaeology article series.