Pompeii destruction wasn’t the worst volcano had to offer, study finds
and World Science staff
The horrifying destruction of Pompeii, a thriving southern Italian resort town buried by the erupting Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., wasn’t the worst that the volcano has inflicted, researchers have found.
According to a new study, earlier, Vesuvius erupted even more violently two millennia earlier, causing a mass flight and devastating the area of present-day Naples for centuries afterward.
The evidence left behind included thousands of footprint trails leading out of the area, attesting to a massive, rapid exodus, said the researchers, who studied a village about 15 km (9 miles) north-northwest of Vesuvius.
“Scenes of everyday life, frozen by the volcanic deposits, testify that people suddenly left the village,” the researchers wrote in this week’s online edition of the research journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
These included “the moulds of four huts, with pottery and other objects left inside; skeletons of a dog and nine pregnant goat victims found in a cage; and footprints of adults, children, and cows filled by the first fallout pumice.”
Most people apparently managed to escape, they wrote, noting that Vesuvius, for all its violence, often gives some advance warning of its outbursts. But not everyone was so lucky.
In one place, skeletons of a man and a woman “dramatically testify to their unlucky escape attempt and their death due to suffocation,” they wrote. They ended up lying under one meter (39 inches) of pumice, a volcanic glass formed by solidified lava.
After the eruption, a few settlements were immediately rebuilt but soon deserted, most likely because of the area’s extreme environmental devastation, the researchers said.
A similar eruption today could destroy Naples and surrounding areas, the researchers say, adding that these findings could serve as a warning sign for the area’s disaster planners. “At present, at least 3 million people live within the area destroyed by the Avellino” event.
Eruptions at Vesuvius have a characteristic pattern in which plumes of ash are launched into the stratosphere. They are named Plinian eruptions after Pliny the Younger, a Roman statesman who wrote an account of the 79 A.D. event.
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