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Mount Vesuvius eruption boiled people's blood, made skulls explode

The eruption quickly killed those caught in its intense wake.

Wikimedia Commons/PLOS One Journal
  • The eruption occurred in the year 79 A.D.
  • New research suggests the people of the town of Herculaneum were killed nearly instantly by intense heat
  • According to recent findings, the victims' blood boiled, and their soft tissues were vaporized.


Archaeological dig

Residents of Herculaneum found in a "life-like" stance, rather than curled up, indicates near-instant death.

PLOS One

Imagine living next to Mount Vesuvius in the 1st century, four miles away in the ancient town of Herculaneum. And imagine not knowing that the volcano was about to erupt. What archaeologists are currently trying to piece together now is what happened next.

Hint: It's not pretty. The possible blessing for residents of the town, however, is that what happened was quick — quicker than being cremated, by far.

The seaside chambers

First Phase (Surge 1)

PLOS One

Vesuvius erupts about every 2000 years. When such a volcano erupts, there are at least two phases:

  1. The initial fallout phase, called the pumice air-fall phase, was dispersed 70 km (about 44 miles). This is what buried Pompeii.
  2. The "pyroclastic surges and flows" phase is next, which involves rapid, gravity-driven currents of hot gases mixed with volcanic ash, generated by the collapse of the eruptive column.

From what has been found in the archaeological exploration, the second phase is what the residents of Herculaneum found in this gathering endured, as well as the surviving residents of the initial phase in Pompeii. This particular set of 300 human remains were found in 12 seaside chambers, where undoubtedly they sought shelter after seeing the initial eruption.

However, unbeknownst to the asylum seekers, the temperatures in the ash/hot gas currents can reach from 200–300 degrees °C to a whopping 500 degrees °C. What archaeologists found upon unearthing the victims were all direct evidence that they died almost instantly, rather than over time as previously theorized.

And — here's where it gets rather macabre — the evidence strongly indicates they died from their blood boiling, skulls fracturing (and even exploding from said blood boiling). Their bodily fluids and soft tissues, the researchers say, experienced a "rapid vaporization."

In their words, the remains they discovered "strongly suggest a widespread pattern of heat-induced hemorrhage, intracranial pressure increase and bursting, most likely to be the cause of instant death of the inhabitants in Herculaneum."

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
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Masturbation boosts your immune system, helping you fight off infection and illness

Can an orgasm a day really keep the doctor away?

Sexual arousal and orgasm increase the number of white blood cells in the body, making it easier to fight infection and illness.

Image by Yurchanka Siarhei on Shutterstock
Sex & Relationships
  • Achieving orgasm through masturbation provides a rush of feel-good hormones (such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) and can re-balance our levels of cortisol (a stress-inducing hormone). This helps our immune system function at a higher level.
  • The surge in "feel-good" hormones also promotes a more relaxed and calm state of being, making it easier to achieve restful sleep, which is a critical part in maintaining a high-functioning immune system.
  • Just as bad habits can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system which can prevent you from becoming sick.
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How DNA revealed the woolly mammoth's fate – and what it teaches us today

Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.

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