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What Really Happened at Pompeii on 24th August AD79?

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What Really Happened at Pompeii on 24th August AD79? Introduction On 24th August AD79, Mount Vesuvius, a large volcano overlooking the Bay of Naples, erupted. It is famous for the way that it destroyed the Roman town of Pompeii, and in doing so, preserved the agony of Pompeii's unfortunate inhabitants. This is shown above in this 17th century sketch showing the Vesuvius erupting. The fact that this sketch was drawn almost 2000 years after the eruption is typical of pictures and accounts of the eruption, as there is only one surviving first-hand account of the eruption, coming from Pliny the Younger, who was living with his uncle, Pliny the Elder, who was the admiral of the Roman Fleet at Misenum, a town at the North side of the Bay of Naples, the other side to Pompeii which was further south. Despite Pliny the Younger's first hand account of the eruption, there are many different theories as to what killed the people of Pompeii. Using various different sources, in this essay I aim to investigate what really destroyed Pompeii and killed the people of the town. Monte Somma Mount Vesuvius This picture shows the view of Mount Vesuvius from Naples. This is roughly the view that Pliny the Younger would have got when viewing the Vesuvius erupting. From the view in the picture above, Pompeii would be on the other side of the mountain. Monte Somma is the remnant of the Vesuvius before the eruption of the Vesuvius in AD79 and indicates that in AD79 most of the cone of the Vesuvius was blown away by the eruption. ...read more.


Later, when the energy of the blast was no longer strong enough to keep the dense column aloft, it collapsed and cascaded down the mountain in convulsive waves. Super-heated ash churned around ground-hugging rock and gas in a racing, burning avalanche. It was another pyroclastic flow. A pyroclastic flow is worlds away from a slow, predictable lava flow that early scientists thought has destroyed Pompeii. After these two eruptions, a new science in the understanding of pyroclastic flow developed. This picture above actually shows a pyroclastic flow occurring at Mount Saint Helens. The pyroclastic flow is seen in the area shown by the arrow. It is seen hugging the side of the mountain while the ash clouds rise above the pyroclastic flow. What amazed scientists who studied the eruptions at Mount Saint Helens and El Chichon was that burning rocks and ash could flow so fast and so powerfully, moving as if they were liquid. The flow is fluidised because it contains water and gas from the eruption, water vapour from melted snow and ice from the top of the volcano, and air from the flow overriding air as it moves down slope. There is more evidence that it was a pyroclastic flow that hit Pompeii, other than those discussed above. The case for the destruction of Pompeii by pyroclastic flow gained further credibility after the discovery of an ancient chamber near the AD79 sea front at Herculaneum. At Herculaneum, the deposits from the volcano caused the sea to retreat from the town, meaning that seaside villas in AD79 are now more than 100 feet from the sea. Archaeologists found hundreds of skeletons, most of the population of Herculaneum, hiding in the chamber. ...read more.


Four more surge clouds followed this, the last occurring at 8.30am. The 2nd hit Herculaneum and the 3rd ran out of energy just before hitting Pompeii. However, it made breathing in the city difficult. The fourth surge cloud killed the remaining people left alive in Pompeii. The boiling hot ash filled wind that hit the city at 300 km an hour killed them almost instantaneously. The final surge cloud swept the countryside around Pompeii and Herculaneum, killing many of those who had fled Herculaneum and Pompeii. Around 10,000 of Pompeii's residents are killed. 1pm Pliny wrote that, 'At last this dreadful darkness was attenuated by degrees to a kind of cloud or smoke, and passed away; presently the real day returned, and even the sun appeared, though lurid as when an eclipse is in progress. Every object that presented itself to our yet affrighted gaze was changed, covered over with a drift of ash, as with snow.' Heavy rain three days later caused the mudslide that buried Herculaneum. Pompeii remained buried and forgotten for about 1,670 years until 1592, although the plateau where it had once stood was always known as 'Civita', or the city. Finally, in 1748, Don Rocco de Alcubierre, a Spanish Engineer, heard rumours that workers had found the ruins of houses. He believed they might belong to the city buried in the eruption of AD79. In April of that year, Alcubierre started digging in the street that is now as Via della Fortuna. Over 250 years later, 4/5 of Pompeii has been excavated, and the excavations continue. Only just, over 2000 years, we are beginning to realise what really happened to the people of Pompeii on 24th August, AD79. ...read more.

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