Pompeii: Stories from an Eruption
About the Exhibition

Previous excavations had recovered just 32 bodies in the city’s urban area—one of which was a newborn in a crib.  It was not until the excavations of the 1980s that there was any larger discovery of human remains in the area of Herculaneum. Based on the scarcity of human remains found until then, it was thought that the majority of the town’s inhabitants managed to flee from the eruption. But after the chance discovery of one skeleton in 1980 on the beach of Herculaneum, major digs produced nearly 300 human bodies, as well as some dogs and two horses.

These remains were found in a series of arched vaults and along the beach at Herculaneum. Those who had attempted to flee were hit by the surge of gas and ash that had swept through the town just a few seconds earlier.  Once the first surge had abated, the volcano began emitting a new flow that buried the city under another 15-20 inches of volcanic material, and the beach under a layer almost 5 feet deep.

All life in the region of Herculaneum had been extinguished.  An hour later, a second surge of ash began, but with a lower temperature and higher velocity, which caused the flow to begin tearing apart the upper stories of buildings, carrying with it a large amount of construction material.

By the end of the day, Herculaneum had been buried by another four surges, which resulted in a deposit of more than 75 feet of volcanic matter.  The dynamic process by which the city was buried—in numerous, sporadic phases—and the presence of groundwater in the area made it an ideal site for preservation of organic materials like wood, vegetable matter, and even textile fibers.

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