On this day almost two thousand years ago, the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed—flash-fried, and then buried—by heat, ash, and pumice from a volcanic eruption.
Some wonder why people would live so close to a dangerous volcano—but Mt. Vesuvius had been dormant (inactive) for hundreds of years before this eruption.
It is sobering to realize that, although Pompeii and Herculaneum were never rebuilt, people still do live near Mt. Vesuvius! There are almost one million people in the nearby city of Naples, and another two million living elsewhere are close enough to be in danger if there were a really big eruption.
You might imagine that all those people live near a volcano because modern science has shown that it is, not just dormant, but entirely extinct. But you would be wrong.
Scientists consider Vesuvius an active volcano. It has erupted again and again (although not as strongly) since the 79 C.E. eruption: fifteen times between the years 79 and 1000 C.E., eight more times in the next 500 years, once in 1500, again in 1631, six times in the 18th century, eight times in the 19th century, and in 1906, 1929, and 1944!
No wonder scientists consider Mt. Vesuvius to be one of the most dangerous volcanos in the world!
Although it is incredibly sad that so many people died in Pompeii and Herculaneum, it would be even more sad if we hadn't discovered their remains. Buried beneath six meters (18 feet) of ash and pumice, Pompeii was actually forgotten for almost 17 centuries! In the 1700s, the city was accidentally rediscovered, and archeologists got busy excavating the buildings and the remains of humans and other animals.
During the 1800s a man named Giuseppe Fiorelli realized that the occasional open spots in the ash layer were holes left by decomposed bodies. He injected plaster into the holes to perfectly recreate the people or dogs—even the terrified expressions on their faces. This technique has not given us a freeze-frame picture of what people did in their daily lives, because of course people were trying to escape death or sheltering in buildings. Still, scientists have excavated many different tools and instruments, frescoes (murals) and toys—all of which have helped them recreate what daily life must've been like at that time.
Take a “virtual field trip” to Pompeii and Vesuvius.