Pompeii City

Pompeii, located at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, is an archaeological site near the coast of the Bay of Naples.

The morning of August 24, 79 A.D. started as an ordinary day. As it was the ancient Roman city which was well organised and had a service of major roads.

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius devastated the whole town and left the city submerged under 4-6 m of ash. The blast brought pumice, ashes, other rocks and hot volcanic gases that could be seen from hundreds of miles around. After that, the rain came out, which sealed the entire surface with dust. The pyroclastic flows devastated the whole town. That lasted for about 18–24 hours.

Pyroclastic flow Pompeii
Pyroclastic flow Pompeii. Source: Science (AAAS)

The molten lava reaches around 800 degrees Celsius. The people were not prepared and were left with the choice to either hide in their cellar or to face the destruction. There were shrieks from women, children crying, people searching for family members, and the gases had made the entire atmosphere so dark that they couldn’t see anyone.They recognised each other through their voices only. Many of the babies never woke up. The whole city turned into a horrible scene that no one had imagined before. It was the next day after the festival of the Roman god of fire, Vulcanalia.

The writer, Pliny the younger, had watched the eruption from across the bay. It was his letter that gave us the profound materials of that horrible day. He compared this “cloud of unusual size and appearance” to a pine tree that “rose to a great height on a sort of trunk and then split off into branches.” Today, this type of volcano is known as a “Plinean eruption.” It was 100-1000 times stronger than the nuclear bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Hence, the whole city was lost for more than a thousand years. It was only in the year 1748 that the excavation of the town took place, and the people were shocked to see the town with its treasury and lying bodies beneath the ashes. The twin sister of Pompeii, Herculaneum, also suffered and met with the same fate . The total death toll remains unknown.


Pliny the younger, who was the only witness to survive, wrote letters to the historian Tacitus in which he narrated the deadliest day in Pompeii. He said that the eruption started around 12 noon.

There were earthquakes that occurred before the massive destruction, as the excavation described the repair of several buildings. The tremor was an indication, but the Romans denied the alarming condition.

According to Volcanology, the magma causes both volcanic eruptions and earth quakes.

When the excavation started, the whole town was covered with a blanket of pumice and the bodies were lying there describing their last moments before their death. as if they were suffering from asphyxiation.

 Interesting Engineering Pompeii and the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius
Interesting Engineering Pompeii and the Eruption of    Mount Vesuvius. Source: Interesting Engineering


Thousands of bodies were exhumed and studied, and advances in technology made it much easier for archaeologists to determine the age, gender, and causes of death of the bodies.There were pregnant women, corpses of children with their mothers; some were lying on their beds, even the bodies of animals, and also the food materials got preserved, like the egg shells, loaf of bread etc.

The 3-D MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) done by Prof. Francesco Silvano Sasso, Radiologist, University of Naples, discovered that the bodies were exposed to dusty air as the left maxillary sinus tube of the bodies had the white particle materials.

Geological data shows it ejected around 10,000 tonnes of material every second that rocks threw up to 40 km in the sky and returned to the city in the form of rain. The volcanic rocks broke into small particles and dropped from the sky so that even people were covering their heads with pillows in order to avoid injury.

Prof. Ernesto De Carolis , an archaeologist, said that the people were carrying the keys of their houses and also various precious stones, amulets, jewelries, and rings on their fingers were found. This revealed that it was not the sudden movement of their houses that caused it. There was the same degree of hesitation as earlier; they planned to stay in their homes, but the velocity of rocks that even penetrated inside had compelled them to move out.

Volcanologist Claudio Scarpati and colleagues Giuseppe Luongo and Annamaria Perrotta of the University of Naples Federico 2 examined the house of Lullius Polybius, where 13 skeletons were found and taken for mitochondrial DNA testing, which revealed six individuals belonged to the same family, including the pregnant woman.

Molecular biologist, Marilena Cipollaro, of the Second University of Naples, studied the same 13 skeletons through DNA testing.

Prof. Antanino Cascino of the Second University of Naples said that the few bodies that have got their mouths widely open due to the lack of oxygen.

But the question arises: what was the cause of the mass death?

Neel V. Patel of Popular Science explains, “The cause of death may have been something else entirely, and the observed high temperature effects on the blood and tissue may have been produced by post-mortem pyroclastic flows.” They travel faster than lava.

Gizmodo’s Dvorsky reports that many of the ash-corpses in Pompeii are curled into what archaeologists call the “pugilist” position, because the heat caused their muscle fibres to contract. Volcanologist Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo, of Rome, said that the temperature was enough to kill 100 people at a time. The temperature was so high that it even killed the bacteria of the soil around the lying corpses; it was only found in the cavities of the bones of the bodies. The first pyroclastic surge devastated the roof top, and it was the fourth surge that actually buried the town.

The heat was so intense that it led to the cadaveric spasm which eventually resulted in the vaporisation of the body fluids, which actually caused the sudden death of the masses without suffocation. In this way, about 62% of the population suffered postmortem spasms due to the pyroclastic surge. This caused the sudden death that clearly described their emotions before their last breath. Some people died due to suffocation and ash falls, but the majority had escaped and met with the most deadly attack. The archaeological excavation found certain diseases like congenital syphilis in the twins. The excavation shows different ancestry like that of Africans, as the Roman era was at the peak of slavery. There was the identification of soldiers through the marks on their skulls.



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