How The Volcanic Eruption Turned People Into Stone – Pompeii


A young girl and her friends frolic on a paved
road outside an elegant mansion. The mother of one of the girls peers through
luxurious drapes out the window. Tourists pass by, visiting the famed town
of Pompeii, there to experience the bustling taverns and elaborate bathhouses, the busy
cafes and acclaimed artisans’ stalls. Hundreds of others mingle in market squares
or head to the giant arena, and meanwhile the many slaves of the town clean floors,
work in factories, or massage men in the local “wolf den”. Then suddenly a deafening crack is heard,
followed by great plumes of ash blackening the sky. Those people in the streets see daytime turn
to night. People soon scream in the darkness as buildings
collapse around them. Noxious gases and superheated rocks will envelop
them all. That’s what happened the day the Roman city
of Pompeii was swallowed, when something like 12-20,000 folks were stopped in their tracks,
consumed by nature’s whim. How we know the scene was something close
to that is because many, many years later archeologists managed to put the pieces back
together. But before we get to what they discovered,
let’s have a closer look at Pompeii in ancient times. The city, which today lies in the Province
of Naples, Italy, was home to people from present day Italy as far back as the 8th century
BC. We’ll make this part quick and just tell
you that the ancient Greeks landed there, and in the 6th century BC it became a place
with flourishing trade. City walls were constructed and temples were
built, and over a period of a few hundred years Pompeii enriched itself through trade
and agriculture. Wealthy people would flock there after hearing
about this beautiful town, marked with grand private buildings, theaters, bathhouses and
marvelous statues saluting the Gods. Not long before the cataclysmic eruption destroyed
the city in its entirety in 79 AD, it was renowned as a place where rich Roman men could
lavish themselves on fine wines and the many women that worked in the brothels. Being right on the sea it would attract wealthy
tourists, so you might say Pompeii was to some extent a resort town. But overlooking the city was something that
made itself aware on occasion to the people of Pompeii, and that was the great Mount Vesuvius. We say made aware, because the thing would
rumble from time-to-time, noted by some Roman authors. The Romans actually thought this mount was
divine, giving it a mythological meaning which was later discovered in mural paintings called
frescos. What the Romans didn’t know was that Pompeii
itself stood on a lava plateau that had been created by an eruption of this volcano. The people should have been worried, and they
got a taste of what was to come when around 17 years before most of them would die they
experienced an earthquake that caused considerable damage in Pompeii and beyond. The ensuing years saw a lot of reconstruction
of damaged buildings while other edifices were erected. Things were getting back to normal. Let’s now get to that bad day-in-the-life
of Pompeii. We know something about how it went down because
a Roman author named Pliny the Younger wrote about the catastrophe. His uncle, Pliny the Elder, had actually died
while trying to evacuate people from the town. It’s thought the eruption happened sometime
in October or November. Pliny wrote that on the day a great plume
of smoke was seen rising from the mountain. He actually described it like this, “Its
general appearance can best be expressed as being like an umbrella pine, for it rose to
a great height on a sort of trunk and then split off into branches.” His uncle at this time was not in the town,
but not far away. He realized that what he had seen was an event
of great magnitude, and so he called his men and set off to help. The uncle got to the shore next to the city. It was there it seems he choked to death,
according to his nephew anyway. Pliny wrote to the great Roman historian Tacitus
about the eruption. This is what he recalls of the second day
of the disaster and what happened to him and his mother. Pliny wrote that he heard women screaming,
infants crying, people feeling their way through the darkness, looking for lost relatives,
praying. In his own words he said, “Many besought
the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe
was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.” He was right, too. There was to be eternal darkness for the people
of Pompeii, but they would experience some kind of resurrection. Some of them are now being photographed by
tourists with smartphones, but we’ll talk more about that soon. It was first thought that the people, well,
most of them, would have died from ash inhalation. No doubt a lot did succumb that way, but most
perished not from ash, but from heat. You see, when Vesuvius erupted it ejected
something called pyroclastic surges. These surges happened six times in total. What happens in these surges is incredibly
hot ash along with toxic gases are spewed out, and those travel at incredibly fast speeds. Vesuvius might be located 10 miles (6km) from
the town, but the surges could have travelled at 100mph (160kph). The people really didn’t have anywhere to
run. Scientists now say inside or outside, when
these surges happened the temperature would have been around 570°F (300°C) and people
would have been killed on the spot. We also know that some of the people died
as if frozen in suspended actions. One researcher said this, “The contorted
postures are not the effects of a long agony, but of the cadaveric spasm, a consequence
of heat shock on corpses.” When all calmed down and the city was destroyed
along with its inhabitants, robbers arrived on the scene. Pompeii wasn’t completely buried, although
those thieves did have to dig through some ash to find their bounty. Those guys looted from the deceased, but after
that for many centuries Pompeii was dead to the world. It no longer existed. The place that had suffered the wrath of the
Gods was left to itself. In the 16th century some city walls were discovered,
decorated with frescos, but it wasn’t until the early 19th century that it was realized
after some excavations that there must have been some great city that once occupied that
area. The ashes had preserved the city, and some
of the people to some extent. It was as if they had been frozen in time. So, what did they find? The most incredible thing was just how well-built
this place was. They discovered what you might call a state-of-the
art Roman amphitheater, along with a gymnasium with a swimming pool. They found public baths, theaters, cafes,
factories, markets, and even an area dedicated to brothels. Wait a minute, how would they know a place
could have been a house where rich Romans went to sow their seed? Well, it’s the same reason they know what
else was there. The Romans designed places for a specific
intention. A brothel was called a “lupanar”, which
means Wolf Den. Pompeii’s wolf den was credited as being
a “Grand Lupanar.” In the den excavators found walls covered
with erotic paintings as well as graffiti that has been transcribed. It explains what went on inside those walls. One such bit of graffiti actually reads, “Euplia
was here with two thousand beautiful men.” We won’t tell you what else they found because
we don’t want to make this an X-rated show, but suffice to say, it doesn’t seem that
lewd graffiti has changed very much in 2000 and a bit years. They also discovered that Pompeii was served
by an aqueduct which delivered water to private dwellings as well as bathhouses, the swimming
pool and the 25 water fountains in the city. They could see how crops were cultivated and
how wine was produced, what foods the people must have eaten and what some people might
have done for business. As for those bodies, you can see people crouching
down and looking like they are praying. Others are mid-crawl; some are huddled together. We should say that these whole-looking bodies
are casts that were made from impressions of bodies in the ash. The skeletons were surrounded by voids of
ash, and so plaster of Paris was poured into those voids. They represent how the body would have looked,
but aren’t actually the body. The stone people are creations or representations. Most would have been killed by those surges
we talked about, but others might have succumbed from choking on ash, or from roofs falling
on them, or from flying rocks. Some lucky others might have gotten away because
no boats have ever been found. Thirteen bodies were found in what has been
called the “Garden of the Fugitives”, which must have been a kind of fruit farm. The “House of Mysteries” is home to nine
bodies, and it’s thought a roof might have fallen on those folks. One person was just chilling in a tavern when
he died, while others were at the baths and others at the market. There are even casts of animals, such as a
dog and a pig. It’s all the erotic stuff that has really
given us an insight into the private lives of the rich Romans, and there was quite a
haul. Unfortunately some of it was destroyed in
the 19th century by people who were too prudish to allow Roman sexuality to be seen. Other parts of this collection were locked
in what was called a “secret cabinet.” Thankfully these pieces of art are now open
for public viewing. Thanks to CT scans we also know a bit more
about the health of the people that died. One thing we know is that many of the people
had great teeth, and that is because they had a good diet. Not much sugar and lots of fiber. You might wonder what we’d look like if
we were dug up in a thousand years. And this segues nicely into the next part. Because what’s perhaps frightening is that
Mount Vesuvius is now surrounded by around 600,000 people who live in what’s called
a danger zone. About three million people live close enough
to be affected if that thing should go off again. It’s actually the most densely populated
area in the entire world where an active volcano is present. But what are the chances of another eruption
happening anytime soon? Well, it went off the last time in 1944, not
long after the Allies invaded Italy. Again, ash filled the skies and rocks rained
down on nearby villages. As if the war wasn’t enough, those folks
were having to put up with the violent vagaries of nature. People fled their houses as lava approached. Vesuvius has popped its lids on many occasions,
and there were eruptions in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s which saw explosions of ash and
gas and flows of lava. In 1631 after an eruption, thousands of people
died. In 1944, most of the town folks got away quickly
enough. 26 died. In 1906 residents weren’t that fortunate
and over 100 people died. It devastated nearby villages and also Naples. These days if Vesuvius went off and you were
one of the 600,000-plus people living in the Red Zone you could be in big trouble. The Red Zone consists of people living in
9-mile (12-kilometer) radius of the volcano. Looking at how active this volcano has been
and the period of quiet that has passed, you might think another eruption is due. That’s why it’s call a time-bomb. The good news is that the Italian government
in the 2000s put evacuation drills in place and it might know better than those ancient
Romans when the volcano will go off. It’s being observed all the time, so that
might help matters. The government even tried to relocate people,
but not many folks were interested in that. Today scientists say that if Vesuvius did
erupt there would be trouble, and it’s very likely it’s due another eruption soon. In 2019, the volcano was put under surveillance
after magma was seen pushing up to the surface. A year before that volcanic activity was making
some people very nervous and new evacuation plans were being drawn up. It’s gonna go off; it’s just a matter
of time. And since it is just a matter of time, you
need to know what would happen to YOUR body if you fell into a volcano, so go watch “What
Happens To Your Body When You Fall Into a Volcano” right now! We’re serious, don’t wait, the volcanos
could start going off at any time!

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