Humans

Man fleeing Vesuvius eruption stared down the volcanic matter that ‘vaporized’ him

Archaeologists discovered the skeletal remains of a man killed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, offering new insights into one of the most famous volcanic eruptions in history.

The man, who researchers believe was between 40 and 45 years old, was killed just steps from the sea in the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum as he tried to escape, Italian news agency ANSA said.

He was carrying with a wooden box containing a ring, which could have been his most prized possession, The Times said.

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago destroyed several major Roman cities, including Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The remains were discovered during excavations in October, and archaeologists released several images for the first time on Wednesday.

“The last moments here were instantaneous but terrible,” Francesco Sirano, the site director, told ANSA.

“It was 1 am when the pyroclastic surge produced by the volcano reached the town for the first time with a temperature of 300-400 degrees, or even, according to some studies, 500-700 degrees.”

“A white-hot cloud that raced towards the sea at a speed of 100km [60 miles] per hour, which was so dense that it had no oxygen in it,” he added.

The man’s bones were stained red from blood, Sirano told the outlet, because of combustion caused by the flow of magma, ash, and gas.

“They would have burnt off all his clothing and vaporized his flesh. Death would have been instantaneous,” said Pierpaolo Petrone, an anthropologist and archeologist, reported The Telegraph.

The remains were surrounded by heavy carbonized wood, including a roof beam that could have crushed his skull, ANSA reported.

Unusually, the skeleton was facing upwards, suggesting that he had turned to face the onrushing cloud of hot gas and volcanic matter.

“Most of the people we’ve found here at Herculaneum were face down, but maybe he was trying to reach a boat and turned because he heard the roar of the cloud racing towards him at 100km/h,” Sirano said, according to The Times.

The remains were found in an area where 300 people were unearthed in fishermen’s shelters in the 1980s, likely awaiting a possible rescue by the fleet of Pliny the Elder, ANSA said.

Researchers are now puzzling over the man’s identity and wondering why he was not sheltering with the others. Sirano suggested he could have been a rescuer or soldier helping people escape to the sea. 

Alternatively, he could have been a fugitive who left the group to try and get on a rescue ship.

Some experts have suggested he was not a rich man, evidenced by the ring he was carrying.

“The ring is reddish, meaning iron, but there is something green inside the box which could be bronze,” Ivan Varriale, an archaeologist, told The Times

“The box looks like it was used to keep change, and if that’s all he was carrying, he may not have been rich.”

Traces of fabric in the stone indicated that the wooden box was once stored in a bag.

Thousands of years ago, Herculaneum was a seaside town favored by wealthy Romans. The ancient town now lies beneath the modern Italian city of Ercolano.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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