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The last moments of Pompeii

Sometimes I wonder if we know more about the fates of people who died in a volcanic eruption over 1800 years ago than we do about most people who died in any given eruption this year. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with that – we’re fascinated by both volcanoes and Roman antiquity – but the level of detail done for the victims of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. is stunning.

Considering that this blog got started (to an extent) thanks to our cultural obsession with Pompeii, I thought it fitting to post a bit about a recent report on the last moments of a family in Pompeii. Nothing really shocking in the study: some people died after a long wait in the raining ash/pumice that eventually collapsed their roofs. Lesson to be learned: Don’t wait out volcanic eruptions in a building with shoddy/weak roofwork. However, this study from workers at the University of Naples indicates that up to 38% of the victims died during the early phases of the eruption, mostly due to ash and pumice fall, up to 3 meters in some cases. If anything, this work offers some clues on what we should be worried about when we have the next major explosive eruption near a densely populated area, especially in the developing world where housing is not up to the challenge of a volcanic eruption (then again, most construction isn’t).


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