Bones damaged by heat reveal that the inhabitants of Herculaneum were not instantly vaporized by Vesuvius

Residents of the Roman city of Herculaneum may not have been instantly vaporized by Vesuvius, but were baked and suffocated, according to a study.

Like neighboring Pompeii, the ancient city was destroyed in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius volcano in 79 AD.

While the streets of Pompeii were buried under 13–20 feet of ash and pumice, Herculaneum was struck by pyroclastic flows, clouds of gas and debris.

While many of the rich inhabitants of the coastal city evacuated before the eruption, at least 340 people perished while trying to take refuge in stone sheds and on the beach.

Although it was thought that these victims received a mercifully quick death, a new analysis of the victims’ bone remains now suggests otherwise.

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The residents of the Roman city of Herculaneum were not instantly vaporized by Vesuvius, but were baked and suffocated, according to a study. In the picture: while many of the city's residents evacuated before the eruption, about 340 took refuge in stone baths.

The residents of the Roman city of Herculaneum were not instantly vaporized by Vesuvius, but were baked and suffocated, according to a study. In the picture: while many of the city’s residents evacuated before the eruption, about 340 took refuge in stone baths.

What is a pyroclastic flow?

Photo: pyroclastic flows produced by the Mayon volcano in the Philippines in 1984

Photo: pyroclastic flows produced by the Mayon volcano in the Philippines in 1984

Photo: pyroclastic flows produced by the Mayon volcano in the Philippines in 1984

Pyroclastic flows are dangerous and fast-moving currents of hot gas and volcanic matter that can occur in an eruption.

They can be formed when part of the entire main eruption column collapses, or as a result of the directional explosion when a volcano explodes.

One of the deadliest volcanic hazards, the flows can reach speeds of up to 700 430 mph (700 kph) and temperatures close to 1,830 ° F (1,000 ° C).

One aspect that makes Herculaneum interesting compared to Pompeii is its location in relation to Mount Vesuvius, which gave the townspeople more time to evacuate.

“Residents saw the eruption and had the opportunity to try to escape,” said biological anthropologist Tim Thompson of Teesside University in Middlesbrough.

“It gives a snapshot of how these people responded and reacted to the eruption,” he added.

Although much of the population of the coastal city was evacuated, about 340 individuals were still stranded on the coast when pyroclastic flows spread through the city at about 160 kilometers per hour.

While some men of the city rushed to prepare boats on the beach, many women and children took refuge in the houses of vaulted stone boats, or ‘fornici’, where they were finally unearthed centuries later in 1980.

They hid to protect themselves and got stuck. The general theory has been that these individuals vaporized instantly, ” Professor Thompson said.

This notion has been supported by the fact that few of Herculaneum’s human remains found themselves in the so-called ‘boxer attitude’, or ‘boxer’s position’, with elbows and knees bent, as well as clenched fists.

Bodies subjected to high temperatures often end up in the boxer’s position as their tissues and muscles become dehydrated and contract, but this does not occur if temperatures are high enough to quickly vaporize this bone meat.

According to the researchers, the latter requires pyroclastic flow temperatures well above 1832 ° F (1000 ° C), and they had doubts about whether this phenomenon took place in Herculaneum.

“Vaporization does not necessarily agree with what we see forensically in modern volcanic eruptions,” Professor Thompson added.

While many of Herculaneum residents evacuated before the eruption, at least 340 people perished after taking refuge in stone sheds and on the beach

While many of Herculaneum residents evacuated before the eruption, at least 340 people perished after taking refuge in stone sheds and on the beach

While many of Herculaneum residents evacuated before the eruption, at least 340 people perished after taking refuge in stone sheds and on the beach

Like neighboring Pompeii, represented in the impression of this artist, Herculaneum was destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius volcano in 79 AD.

Like neighboring Pompeii, represented in the impression of this artist, Herculaneum was destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius volcano in 79 AD.

Like neighboring Pompeii, represented in the impression of this artist, Herculaneum was destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius volcano in 79 AD.

When some men of the city rushed to prepare boats on the beach, many women and children took refuge in the houses of vaulted stone boats, or 'fornici', where they were finally unearthed centuries later in 1980

When some men of the city rushed to prepare boats on the beach, many women and children took refuge in the houses of vaulted stone boats, or 'fornici', where they were finally unearthed centuries later in 1980

When some men of the city rushed to prepare boats on the beach, many women and children took refuge in the houses of vaulted stone boats, or ‘fornici’, where they were finally unearthed centuries later in 1980

To investigate, the team used techniques to study the skeletons of the Herculaneum boat house they had first developed to study ancient cremations.

His previous work had shown that the internal crystalline structure of the skeletons changes according to the amount of heat to which they are subject, as well as the amount of collagen that remains within the bone.

They performed their tests on the ribs of 152 individuals who perished within the fornici, and discovered that the state of their bones was not consistent with exposure to temperatures of the order of 572–932 ° F (300–500 ° C).

“The interesting thing was that we had a good preservation of collagen, but also evidence of a heat-induced change in the crystalline bone,” said Professor Thompson.

“We could also see that the victims had not been burned at high temperatures.”

They hid to protect themselves and got stuck. The general theory has been that these individuals vaporized instantly, '' Professor Thompson said.

They hid to protect themselves and got stuck. The general theory has been that these individuals vaporized instantly, '' Professor Thompson said.

They hid to protect themselves and got stuck. The general theory has been that these individuals vaporized instantly, ” Professor Thompson said.

This theory of vaporization has been supported by the fact that few of Herculaneum's human remains were found in the so-called 'boxer attitude', or 'boxer's position', with elbows and knees bent, as well as a clenched fist, What does not happen. if the temperatures are high enough to quickly vaporize this bone meat.

This theory of vaporization has been supported by the fact that few of Herculaneum's human remains were found in the so-called 'boxer attitude', or 'boxer's position', with elbows and knees bent, as well as a clenched fist, What does not happen. if the temperatures are high enough to quickly vaporize this bone meat.

This theory of vaporization has been supported by the fact that few of Herculaneum’s human remains were found in the so-called ‘boxer attitude’, or ‘boxer’s position’, with elbows and knees bent, as well as a clenched fist, What does not happen. if the temperatures are high enough to quickly vaporize this bone meat.

Instead of their meat vaporizing instantly, the victims may have lived long enough to suffocate unpleasantly with the toxic gases of the pyroclastic increase, the researchers concluded, if heat stress did not kill them first.

“The heat caused some external changes, but not necessarily internal to the bones,” said Professor Thompson.

This suggests that, at least in the isolated environment of the sheds, the pyroclastic flow temperatures probably did not exceed 752 ° F (400 ° C) and could have been as low as 464 ° F (240 ° C).

“The walls of the fornici, as well as their own body mass, dispersed the heat in the sheds, creating a situation that is more closely related to cooking,” he added.

PEOPLE WITH CRYSTAL BRAINS

In the image, the black glassy matter found inside the skull of the Roman caretaker

In the image, the black glassy matter found inside the skull of the Roman caretaker

In the image, the black glassy matter found inside the skull of the Roman caretaker

The victims of the boathouse were not the only Roman inhabitants who perished in Herculaneum during the eruption.

A man, believed to be around 25 years old, died lying on his stomach on a wooden bed and was probably asleep when the disaster occurred.

The bed was in the Collegium Augustalium, a building owned by an imperial cult that worshiped the former emperor Augustus, and the man was probably his caretaker.

In a separate study published this week, researchers at the University of Naples Federico II found splashes of a solid, black and vitreous material inside the skull of man.

They believe it was the vitrified remains of the brain of man, the first evidence of such a phenomenon.

Brain tissue is usually rarely preserved, but the ‘glass’ even contained proteins that are normally found in brain matter.

The conditions that affected the caregiver were different from those that killed the townspeople who took refuge in the sheds, Professor Thompson told MailOnline.

While the masses huddled in the stone fornici were somewhat isolated from the pyroclastic heat, the caretaker probably faced higher temperatures.

The full study findings were published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The findings of Professor Thompson and his colleagues have not only challenged assumptions about how the Vesuvius catastrophe developed, but they have also opened up new areas of research.

“Thanks to the preservation of collagen in the bones of Herculaneum victims, we have been able to begin a complete set of additional analyzes,” added paper author and archaeologist Oliver Craig of the University of York.

“For example, through stable isotope measurements we have obtained a unique snapshot of the Roman diet.”

The full findings of the study were published in the journal. Antiquity.

Instead of their meat vaporizing instantly, the victims of the boathouse may have lived long enough to suffocate unpleasantly with the toxic gases of the pyroclastic increase, the researchers concluded, if heat stress did not kill them first. In the photo, Vesuvius seen today

Instead of their meat vaporizing instantly, the victims of the boathouse may have lived long enough to suffocate unpleasantly with the toxic gases of the pyroclastic increase, the researchers concluded, if heat stress did not kill them first. In the photo, Vesuvius seen today

Instead of their meat vaporizing instantly, the victims of the boathouse may have lived long enough to suffocate unpleasantly with the toxic gases of the pyroclastic increase, the researchers concluded, if heat stress did not kill them first. In the photo, Vesuvius seen today

One aspect that makes Herculaneum interesting compared to Pompeii is its location in relation to Mount Vesuvius, which gave the townspeople a more advanced warning.

One aspect that makes Herculaneum interesting compared to Pompeii is its location in relation to Mount Vesuvius, which gave the townspeople a more advanced warning.

One aspect that makes Herculaneum interesting compared to Pompeii is its location in relation to Mount Vesuvius, which gave the townspeople a more advanced warning.

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT VESUVIUS AND THE DESTRUCTION OF POMPEII?

What happened?

Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. C., burying the cities of Pompeii, Oplontis and Stabiae under ashes and rock fragments, and the city of Herculaneum under a flow of mud.

Mount Vesuvius, on the west coast of Italy, is the only active volcano in continental Europe and is believed to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.

All residents died instantly when the city of southern Italy was hit by a pyroclastic heat wave of 500 ° C.

Pyroclastic flows are a dense collection of hot gas and volcanic materials that flow along the side of a volcano erupting at high speed.

They are more dangerous than lava because they travel faster, at speeds of around 450 mph (700 km / h) and at temperatures of 1,000 ° C.

An administrator and poet named Pliny the youngest saw the disaster unfold from a distance.

Letters that describe what he saw were found in the 16th century.

His writing suggests that the eruption surprised Pompeii residents.

Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. C., burying the cities of Pompeii, Oplontis and Stabiae under ashes and rock fragments, and the city of Herculaneum under a mudflow

Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. C., burying the cities of Pompeii, Oplontis and Stabiae under ashes and rock fragments, and the city of Herculaneum under a mudflow

Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. C., burying the cities of Pompeii, Oplontis and Stabiae under ashes and rock fragments, and the city of Herculaneum under a mudflow

He said a column of smoke ‘like an umbrella pine’ rose from the volcano and made the surrounding cities as black as night.

People ran through their lives with torches, screams and some cried while the rain of ashes and pumice fell for several hours.

While the eruption lasted about 24 hours, the first pyroclastic waves began at midnight, which caused the volcano’s column to collapse.

An avalanche of hot ashes, rocks and poisonous gases rushed down the side of the volcano at 124 mph (199 km / h), burying the victims and the remains of everyday life.

Hundreds of refugees taking refuge in vaulted arcades on the coast of Herculaneum, grabbing their jewels and money, were killed instantly.

The Orto dei fuggiaschi (The garden of the fugitives) shows the 13 bodies of victims who were buried by the ashes while trying to flee from Pompeii during the eruption of Vesuvius volcano in 79 AD.

The Orto dei fuggiaschi (The garden of the fugitives) shows the 13 bodies of victims who were buried by the ashes while trying to flee from Pompeii during the eruption of Vesuvius volcano in 79 AD.

The Orto dei fuggiaschi (The garden of the fugitives) shows the 13 bodies of victims who were buried by the ashes while trying to flee from Pompeii during the eruption of Vesuvius volcano in 79 AD.

When the people fled from Pompeii or hid in their homes, their bodies were covered by the swell blankets.

While Pliny did not calculate how many people died, it was said that the event was ‘exceptional’ and the number of deaths is believed to exceed 10,000.

What have they found?

This event put an end to the life of cities, but at the same time preserved them until the rediscovery of archaeologists almost 1700 years later.

The excavation of Pompeii, the industrial center of the region and Herculaneum, a small beach resort, has given an unparalleled view of Roman life.

Archaeologists are continually discovering more of the ash-covered city.

In May, archaeologists discovered an alley of large houses, with practically intact balconies and still in their original tones.

A plaster cast of a dog, from the House of Orpheus, Pompeii, 79 d. C. It is believed that around 30,000 people died in chaos, with bodies still discovered to this day.

A plaster cast of a dog, from the House of Orpheus, Pompeii, 79 d. C. It is believed that around 30,000 people died in chaos, with bodies still discovered to this day.

A plaster cast of a dog, from the House of Orpheus, Pompeii, 79 d. C. It is believed that around 30,000 people died in chaos, with bodies still discovered to this day.

Some of the balconies even had amphorae, the conical-shaped terracotta vases that were used to contain wine and oil in ancient Roman times.

The discovery has been hailed as a “complete novelty,” and the Italian Ministry of Culture hopes they can be restored and open to the public.

Rarely have superior stores been found among the ruins of the ancient city, which was destroyed by an eruption of Vesuvius volcano and buried under up to six meters of ash and volcanic debris.

It is believed that around 30,000 people died in chaos, with bodies still discovered to this day.

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