Mount Vesuvius was responsible for the destruction of the city of Pompeii in 79 AD. Nearly everyone has heard one story or another about arguably the most well-known volcanic eruption in history, but how many of you know what really happened on that fateful day in Pompeii?
This mountain located on the west coast of Italy is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, but the Vesuvius eruption is just one part of the story of the Italian city. How much do you know about daily life before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius? Hopefully, these facts about Pompeii will shed some light on one of the most famous ancient catastrophes in recorded history, as well as the vibrant society that preceded it.
For the longest time, historians were in agreement that Mount Vesuvius erupted on August 24, 79 AD. The October 2018 discovery of a date scribbled in charcoal in a house in Pompeii, however, may prove that the volcano erupted two months later than initially believed.
Archaeologists found literal writing on the walls during an excavation. The text dates the scribbles back to 16 days before the "calends" of November - October 17, according to our contemporary calendar system.
"Since it was done in fragile and evanescent charcoal, which could not have been able to last long, it is highly probable that it can be dated to the October of AD 79," the archaeology team said in an official statement.
Roughly 2,000 years after the initial explosion, archaeologists working at the ancient site discovered the remains of a man who appeared to be fleeing the eruption. The skeleton was stuck under a large rock – perhaps a stone door jamb – and lesions on the bones made the scientists suspect an infection may have impaired his escape.
Scientists initially believed the man survived the first phase of the eruption only to be pinned to the ground by the block, which was thrown into the air by the force of the volcano's pyroclastic flow. They have since discovered the man's skull and declared his death the direct result of the pyroclastic flow itself – meaning he perished from asphyxiation within a superheated cloud of rock and ash.
When most of us hear the word “Pompeii,” our minds probably go to volcanoes and hot lava. The citizens of Pompeii themselves, however, didn’t know what a volcano was.
At the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, there was no word for volcano. It came from Mt. Etna in the 1610s. The word is derived from “Vulcan," the Roman God of Fire.
During the 1800s, the skeletal remains found in Pompeii were cast in plaster for protection. This made research and examination impossible for scientists at the time, but, thanks to contemporary technology (more specifically, multi-layer CT scans), modern Italian scientists were able to make 3-D reconstructions of the skeletons that provided interesting insights into life in Pompeii.
One of the things that surprised researchers the most was the exemplary teeth of the majority of Pompeii's citizens. Their dental fortitude was mainly due to their good diet (rich in fruits and vegetables), as well as extremely high levels of fluorine that existed around the volcano.