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In 79 CE, Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried Pompeii, Italy. This mountain located in Naples Italy is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Pompeii was hidden from the world beneath pumice and ash and was all but forgotten for nearly 1,500 years. But that changed in 1738 when excavation workers discovered the site preserved beneath dust and debris. In 1860, Italian archeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli took charge of the site and began a proper excavation. Fiorelli recognised the soft ashes on the site were actually cavities left from the dead, and he is responsible for filling them with high-grade plaster. Thus, the preserved bodies of Pompeii were born. Nearly 150 years later, modern science revealed strange facts about the bodies thanks to CT scans. Among the many things most folks don’t know about Pompeii is that the bodies themselves, more than almost any other existing artefacts, provide archeologists with vital information about what life was like in the ancient city. Take a look at these little-known Pompeii facts.
Pompeii is Well-Preserved Thanks to What Destroyed It
It might sound odd (and more than a little horrible), but the tons of ash that blanketed Pompeii are also the reason why the city’s beautiful art, delicate jewellery, and impressive buildings have been so well-preserved for 2,000 years.
While it may seem like a cruel irony, the truth is the ash and hot gas that killed thousands of Pompeii’s citizens preserved their bodies much better than any conventional method of embalming.
The Plaster Bodies Are Full of Bones
To create the preserved bodies at Pompeii, Fiorelli and his team poured plaster into soft cavities in the ash, which were about 30 feet beneath the surface. These cavities were the outlines of bodies, and they retained their forms despite the soft tissue decomposing over time.
The plaster filled in the spaces formerly occupied by soft tissue.
A common misconception is that the plaster bodies are empty. But the cavities the bodies left were not shells in the ash waiting for the plaster. In fact, they were soft spots that still held the bones of the cadavers. When the plaster filled the soft ash, the bones were enclosed. The bodies of Pompeii are even more lifelike than they appear.
They Reveal the Children Had Syphilis
Surviving until the age of 10 in Pompeii would have been a feat as children often died from infectious diseases and lack of proper treatment. Diseases leave their mark in the enamel of teeth, so archeologists have insight into some of the most common causes of death among the children of Pompeii. Syphilis ranks among the top.
There are tell-tale signs on the bones of a pair of young male twins that point to congenital syphilis.
Although many scientists previously believed that Columbus and his sailors brought syphilis back to Europe after sailing to America, this proves the disease existed in Europe more than 1,000 years before then.
The Ash didn’t Kill Everyone – The Heat Did.
The estimates as to how many people were killed in Pompeii vary greatly, and the number has been a topic of debate among historians for decades. Regardless of how many people actually perished, it seems that we were wrong in our belief that most of the victims died of suffocation from the ash in the air.
New studies suggest that most died instantly from the extreme heat. According to Italian scientists, residents of Pompeii may have been exposed to temperatures well over 1,000 degrees.
The Positions Of The Bodies Indicate How People Might Have Died.
Researchers discovered some of the Pompeii bodies in the fetal position. It’s a common sign of suffocation, so many experts assume the victims died when hot gasses roared through the city. Scientists also know that raining pumice caused roof collapses that killed some Pompeians who remained indoors.
But excavators also discovered bodies in relatively casual positions. This led some scientists to believe that incredibly high temperatures from the eruption killed the Pompeians, not prolonged suffocation by ash.