The site of Pompeii, near Naples in Italy has fascinated people for years. And now, research suggests that the inhabitants didn’t die of suffocation when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, but from sudden exposure to extremely high temperatures in a pyroclastic cloud. After analyzing nearly 100 skeletal casts, testing bone tissue and creating simulations of the Vesuvius eruption, scientists at the Vesuvius observatory think that the people were killed instantly, by the volcano’s lethal temperatures.
Says Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo, from the Vesuvius Observatory: “The lethal temperatures that killed the population around the volcano can be maintained inside the pyroclastic cloud as far as 20 kilometers from the volcano itself. And since Naples is only 10 kilometres from the volcano, at least three million people would be at risk if an eruption like that in 79AD were to happen again.”
But other scientists disagree with this finding, and point to the letters of Pliny the Younger, which were written 25 years after the eruption. He wrote that those of Pompeii’s inhabitants who weren’t killed by falling rocks were subsequently suffocated by ashes and gas.
Says Antonio Varone, the director of the Pompeii archeologicial site: “People died from ashes clogging the lungs and causing death. If there also had been combustion phenomena, because at certain times the temperature was very high, I have nothing against it. But I must say that in many cases, we found wood absolutely not carbonized.”
But if the pyroclastic cloud theory is correct, then at times of high eruption risk, people as far away as 20 kilometres from the volcano should be evacuated, and not only those 8 kms away as it required today.