The Sunday Post (Dundee)
The people frozen in time after epic volcanic eruption
THERE aren’t many of us who haven’t heard of Pompeii.
It is, of course, the town frozen in time after an eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Near modern Naples, Pompeii, an ancient Roman city, was mostly destroyed and buried under four to six metres of volcanic ash and pumice after the eruption on August 24, 79 AD.
Due to the lack of air and moisture, objects suffered little or no deterioration over the course of almost 2000 years.
One witness wrote of how the dust “poured across the land” like a flood.
The blast was so large it was seen hundreds of miles away
He described how the city was plunged into “a darkness . . . like the black of closed and unlighted rooms”.
The blast was so large, it could be seen from hundreds of miles away and, although most residents escaped from Pompeii by boat, others left behind were not so lucky.
Those who were trapped there remain in the exact poses they were in when they died and their skeletons and artefacts have given historians a perfect insight into life in the Roman era.
There is debate between scientists as to how exactly the Pompeiians died, with some believing they were gassed and others arguing they died from extreme heat.
Many casualties, some believe, were shocked into a kind of instant rigor mortis.
There is no denying the toxic levels of the fumes, though. A mixture of hot carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide, hydrogen chloride and sulphur dioxide, the fumes combined with fine ash.
Once the Pompeiians had breathed this in, it formed a kind of cement in the lungs.
A few breaths would see the windpipe closed off – meaning death.
Many of the casts made of the victims show people covering their noses and mouths as though trying to protect themselves from the fumes.
The event has captured the imaginations of many people throughout the decades and, as a result, it’s been the subject of many aspects of popular culture.
From being the inspiration for some of the scenes from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute to the location of a Pink Floyd gig, Live At Pompeii, everyone wanted to get in on the action.
Frankie Howerd also brought it to television screens in Up Pompeii!, which ran from 1969, but a certain Time Lord visited the site, too.
Big fans of Doctor Who will remember that current Doctor Peter Capaldi played Roman merchant Lucius Caecilius Iucundu, when David Tennant’s Doctor landed in Pompeii on the eve of the eruption.
In case you were wondering, Mount Vesuvius hasn’t erupted since 1944, but it is still regarded as one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.
Experts believe another eruption could happen any day.
The consquences would be catastrophic due to the fact that almost three million people live within 20 miles of the volcano’s crater.