1,900 years ago: Terrified mother and child’s final moments preserved in ash after Pompeii volcano blast
For the first time in 1,900 years, an amazed mother and infant were discovered after the destructive Volcano of Pompeii.
Restauration work on the bodies of those who died when the Vesuvius eruption in Pompeii triggered some surprising discoveries such as this scene in Italy in AD79.
It took Pompeii and Herculaneum towns and killed thousands of unknown Romans, which is one of the most catastrophic and destructive volcanic eruptions the world has ever seen.
The pieces are soon to be shown at a Pompeii and Europe Exhibition at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, Italy.
Molten rock rained down on the surrounding landscape at a rate of 1.5 million tons per second in an eruption thought to have released 100,000 times the thermal energy of the Hiroshima bombing.
In recent years, archaeologists used hollows in the volcanic ash where victims’ bodies fell and decayed. They have filled these cavities with plaster to see the outline of their final resting places.
There has been much excavation work of the area, with more than 1,000 casts of bodies being made in Pompeii alone.
In 2010, studies showed that a surge reached temperatures of 300°C in Pompeii.
Volcanologist Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo, who led the study said: “(It was) enough to kill hundreds of people in a fraction of a second”.
In reference as to why the bodies were frozen in suspended action, Giuseppe explained: “The contorted postures are not the effects of a long agony, but of the cadaveric spasm, a consequence of heat shock on corpses.”
The eruption was foreshadowed at the time by smaller earthquakes in the preceding days, but nothing was done by authorities.
A Roman poet Pliny the Younger, who was 17 at the time, recorded much of what happened during the eruption, but it is thought that a horrific cloud of ash, volcanic gas and stones spewed from the volcano to a height of around 21 miles.
He described the sight: “I cannot give you a more exact description of its appearance than by comparing to a pine tree; for it shot up to a great height in the form of a tall trunk, which spread out at the top as though into branches…
“Occasionally it was brighter, occasionally darker and spotted, as it was either more or less filled with earth and cinders.”
The poet’s uncle Pliny the Elder also recorded his experiences, but he died of unknown causes during the evacuation.