August 24 - Mt. Vesuvius Erupts! Pompeii Buried!

   Posted on August 24, 2022     

This is an update of my post published on August 24, 2011:

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.

Luckily, most of the people of those two ancient towns were able to flee when the volcano showed signs of erupting. There are estimates that 2,000 out of about 15,000 to 20,000 people died. In other words, about 10% to 13% died, and between 87% and 90% fled to nearby towns or even farther.

Still, even the folks who lived lost their homes and probably most of their possessions.

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.

And that is possible. Vesuvius is definitely not extinct, and it's not even dormant.

Instead, 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 look at this video about excavating and movie making - in and about Pompeii.


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