Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Plaster cast of a Pompeiian volcano victim

pompeiian volcano victim

The lifelike pose of many victims at Pompeii—seated with face on their hands, crawling, kneeling on a mother's lap—are helping to lead to a new interpretation of how these ancient people died in A.D. 79 eruptions of Italy's Mount Vesuvius.

Until now it's been assumed that most of the victims were asphyxiated by volcanic ash and gas. But the recent study states that most died due to extreme heat, with many casualties shocked into a sort of instant rigor mortis.

Volcanologist Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo and his colleagues started analyzing the layers of buried volcanic ash, rock and then fed the data into a computer simulation of the Mount Vesuvius eruption.

They concluded that the volcano which was six miles away from Pompeii, produced six different pyroclastic surges—fast-moving, ground-hugging waves of hot, toxic gases and ash.

Most of the hundreds of fatalities occurred during the fourth surge—the first to reach Pompeii—even though that surge was relatively slow and ash-poor.

The fourth surge was too weak to wreck buildings but temperatures outdoors—and indoors—rose up to 300°C [570°F] which was more enough to kill hundreds of people in a fraction of a second.

Because of the extreme heat, "when the pyroclastic surge hit Pompeii, there was no time to suffocate," he said. "The contorted postures are not the effects of a long agony, but of the cadaveric spasm, a consequence of heat shock on corpses."

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