Vesuvius victims baked slowly as they died
3 min read
fairly difficult
Hundreds who died weren't instantly vaporized.
The A.D. 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius , destroyer of Pompeii, also decimated the neighboring seaside town of Herculaneum. There, scores of people died more slowly than once thought, according to a new study.

When Vesuvius erupted, hundreds of Herculaneum residents fled to a nearby beach and perished while trying to escape; some experts previously concluded that the intense heat of melted rock, volcanic gases and ash, known as pyroclastic flows, vaporized the victims instantly.

However, new evidence gathered from the victims' bones suggests that their fate was grimmer — and more lingering. Researchers estimated that temperatures of the pyroclastic flows were likely low enough that death wouldn't have been mercifully instantaneous for people on the beach. Instead, the volcano's victims would have suffocated to death on toxic fumes while trapped in oven-like boathouses, researchers recently reported.

Related: Photos: The Bones of Mount Vesuvius

Erupting volcanoes spew lava that can burn you, gas that can choke you and ash that can bury you. Pyroclastic flows — which do all three — can travel at speeds exceeding 50 mph (80 km/h) at temperatures reaching 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit (700 degrees Celsius), according to the U.S. Geological Survey .

Between 1980 and 2012, archaeologists excavated and examined skeletons belonging to 340 individuals at the Herculaneum seafront — on the beach and inside 12 stone boathouses called fornici. A prior investigation of the remains, conducted in 2018, revealed unusual residue, thought to be sprayed body fluids, and star-shaped fractures on some of the skulls. Scientists concluded…
Mindy Weisberger
Read full article