It was not just the eruption that led to the death of the inhabitants of Pompeii but also the simultaneous earthquake. Turmoil, confusion, attempted escapes and, in the meantime, an earthquake, showers of pumice, volcanic ash and hot gases. This was the inferno of the eruption of AD 79, the living hell in which the inhabitants of the ancient city of Pompeii found themselves, including the two victims whose skeletons were recently discovered during the excavation of the insula of the House of the Chaste Lovers.
They were the victims of an earthquake that accompanied the eruption, discovered beneath a wall that had collapsed between the final phase of the deposition of pumice and prior to the arrival of the pyroclastic flows that buried Pompeii for good.
They provide increasingly clear evidence that, during the eruption, it was not just the collapse of structures associated with the accumulation of pumice or the impact of pyroclastic flows that represented the only dangers to the lives of the inhabitants of ancient Pompeii, as the excavations carried out over the last decades have revealed.
The eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 started in the morning of an autumnal day although it was only around 1.00 pm that the so-called “Plinian” phase began during which a eruption column formed - dozens of kilometres high - from which fell a shower of pumice. This phase was followed by a series of pyroclastic flows that left deposits of ash and volcanic material when they settled. The volcanic phenomena killed anyone still sheltering in the ancient city of Pompeii, that lies to the southeast of present-day Naples, ending the lives of at least 15-20% of the population, according to the estimates of archaeologists. The causes of death also included the collapse of buildings, due to an earthquake accompanying the eruption, which proved to be a lethal threat.
The skeletons were discovered during work to implement safety measures, renovate the roofing and shore up the sides of the excavation of the Insula of the House of the Chaste Lovers, which also involved the excavation of several rooms.
They were found lying on one side in a utility room, probably not in use at the time due to repairs or renovation work underway in the house, where they had taken refuge in search of protection.
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